In my post-apocalyptic novel, the MC Eris navigates the world of survivors and grapples with her newly discovered abilities. The leader of the group of survivors, and the book's antagonist, Ezrith, had a wife named Saskia who was, unbeknownst to everyone, killed by Eris. I want to write a short story that centers around Ezrith and Saskia's death and how Ezrith handled it when it happened, but I don't really know where to begin.

Should I call my short story a prequel, or, since its a short story, can it not be called a prequel? Should I write my short story so that it could be read stand-alone, without previously reading my novel? And since the short story is written about the antagonist, whose backstory is tragic, how do I keep the reader from piling all their sympathy on her?


3 Answers 3


Writing your short story as a standalone is highly useful. You want your story to be readable by as wide an audience as possible, so you don't want to depend on readers having already read your novel. In fact, a short story can serve as a sort of "advertisement" - if the readers like it, they would continue to the novel. If not, they've invested less time and money in it than the would have in a novel. So for a reader, the short story is a "safer buy". (Particularly if it is published in some sort of anthology with other writers, or even free on the internet.)

As an example, both Fragile Things and Trigger Warning (two short stories collections be Neil Gaiman) contain a short story set in the American Gods world. Both, in fact, are sequels. Both are standalones - one does not need to have read American Gods to enjoy them. One does not need any information at all, other than what is contained within each story.


I wouldn't get hung up on prequel or sequel labels to be honest. This is more true when you have a story where events are happening before and after another story/novel.

However we don't have a label for "quel" for "written after the original stor". :)

In general, the length of the piece doesn't really matter. There isn't a magical threshold where a story is too short to be related. You have stories that used a short story as the seed and I know at least one author that had a poem for their "prequel". In the video world, you have shorts (4 minute) prequels to full-length movies (Brave verses The Legend of Mardu), so I think the length matters.

The last set of questions is a bit more complicated, but why don't you want sympathy for the character? What is wrong with having someone with a tragic backstory that changes the meaning of the first book. As long as it is internally consistent with their behavior, I think it is perfectly reasonable. Not to mention, everyone has moments of shining as their moments of shame; it influences who they become but one doesn't define them without variation.

Even your monsters can like bunnies.

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    A good example of a couple very large stories and several small ones tied together in the same universe would be Tolkien's Legendarium.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 10:52

That is a lot of questions. I will answer the last one.

You have a human being who is grieving and as such deserves sympathy, particularly since the loss is sudden and violent. Let the reader empathize with your character and they can even hate that kid who kills this woman - though they won’t because it is difficult to hate kids - even ones who are killers by nature.

Give them a three dimensional, fully fleshed character and let them feel her pain. I don’t know if you have suffered grief, but it manifests in many different ways. Some weep in a corner, others soldier on like nothing happened all the while shattered by the experience. Choose how your character will grieve.

Remember, everyone is a hero of their own story. Your antagonist is no different, seeing everything she does as justfied. She will be in pain, might lash out and this could darken her soul.

When writing this, you must not be on Eris’ side - this is not her story. Let your other character breathe and grow in this, but remember that she is your MC here.

Unless you plan on selling your book as a boxed set - write it so it can stand alone. This will probably be finished before your novel so having it rely too heavily on something unreleased will just leave the reader unsatisfied and, should they later encounter your novel, less likely to read it judging from previous disappointment.

After my novel got deleted, I started working on a prequel, which will be a stand alone novel that dovetails with the main work.

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