In AM Justice’s post about prologues, she gives us a few guidelines for the user of prologues, including the advice: “Don’t include if, unless the story won’t work without it.”
I’m not one to argue about prologues: I decided not to include them in my works but I’ve seen them done incredibly well.
If you decide, however, that a prologue won’t work in your novel but you feel like there is a story that can shed light on your story, world, or characters, consider a different approach.
Like my own works, Gunpowder Fantasy author Brian McClellan has used short stories as a way to build his characters’ backstory and origins. Without these, the people of his world are well-rounded and deep; with them, the people of the Powdermage universe take on personalities that wouldn’t have made sense to develop in the main novels.
So what are some tips for building characters and backstory through secondary works?
-Have a Story
Without a story, your secondary work will be pointless – you’d be better off conveying information through other means. Do the same groundwork as you would for your novels.
If you’re going to use short stories to worldbuild, you can go wherever you like. But if you’re using these extra works to build an identity of personality, obviously you want your characters to play some role.
Finally, be consistent. You don’t want to use your short stories to build a character if it doesn’t match up with the personality in your main works.