Prequels, sequels and spin-offs

GaimanBookCoverV2bDoes the future of the novella lie in augmenting existing novels?

The novella is often hailed as the ideal middle ground between a novel and a short story, long enough for true immersion without being bloated or overdrawn. But they sometimes serve another purpose, as minature sequels or prequels to existing pieces of work – a trend which seems to be on the rise.

Video games have been doing this for years. Some, if not most modern gaming developers release DLC, or Downloadable Content, to augment existing gaming experiences. For story-based games, it could further explore what happened to the characters after the original game’s end – a brief respite until the inevitable full-length sequel – or for games more geared towards online multiplayer, additional playable areas and resources to utilise.

It would be absurd to suggest a total replication of this practice in the literary market – who wants ten additional chapters for £0.79 each? – but we can draw some parallels with a handful of contemporary authors.

British author Neil Gaiman has penned novella expansions to two of his full-length works – Monarch of the Glen, an epilogue to his 2001 novel American Gods, and The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, a tangential sequel to his graphic novel series The Sandman.

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, too, has released multiple novella-length works in the same fictional universe as his A Song of Ice and Fire series – including three novellas set roughly 90 years before the events of the main series, as well as another, The Princess and the Queen, set even further back into the fictional past. A further novella, The Rogue Prince, is set for a June release.

These are but two tips of an enormous iceberg – albeit very prolific and high-profile tips. Many authors are using novellas as a form of literary DLC to expand the story of their novels, to explore backstory or to take a look at another character’s perspective – or the villain’s.

The merit in this practice probably lies in the chances for additional narrative exploration. In stories limited to a certain perspective, switching to another in a second, shorter book can add depth to the story in a way that would otherwise have been impossible. Backstories are often hard to explore without lengthy flashbacks that disrupt the flow of the narrative, and some loose ends can be tricky to tie up without making the final parts of a novel swollen with answers and explanations, in the vein of a Scooby Doo-style villain-unmasking exposition sequence. A novella can include those answers, as is the case with Gaiman’s American Gods spin-off, as well as providing a great secondary story that breathes new life into the novel from whence it came.

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