Sometimes when a movie, play, concept album or novel becomes exceptionally successful, the creator of that work will create a follow-up work known as a sequel. A sequel generally picks up where the original work ended, as in the case of the blockbuster sci-fi movie The Empire Strikes Back or the novel Scarlett, a sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind. Some authors, however, choose to create a new work which begins before the setting of the original movie, play or novel. A work which explores the early lives of established characters is called a prequel. An example of a prequel would be the 2008 movie Star Trek, which explores the early history of the original characters from the television series Star Trek. The prequel Batman Begins also predates the successful Batman movie franchise released years earlier.
A prequel can be a single work created to explain the back story of popular characters, or it may become the first in a new series of prequels. The new Batman film franchise, for example, may spawn several sequels according to its own story arc, but they will all be considered prequels to the original series which featured Batman as an adult. Sometimes an author will create a prequel after taking the original storyline to its logical conclusion. Author JK Rowling, for example, may choose to write a prequel to her Harry Potter series instead of taking the original characters into adulthood. A prequel would either explore the early lives of the main characters, or else be set a generation or two earlier and use characters only mentioned briefly in the original series.
The term prequel is considered to be a portmanteau, or new word, much like splashdown or cyberspace. Until recently, few authors or scriptwriters produced prequels as part of a series of works. Quite often, an original work would prove so popular that publishers or movie studio executives would commission sequels from either the original creators or a new set of writers for hire. These sequels may or may not be based on original source materials, but they would incorporate the characters and general setting of the original movie or novel. Such sequels may succeed or fail based on their faithfulness to the original work or other factors. A prequel, however, often demands that the commissioned writer have a solid understanding of the mythology surrounding the original work, as well the ability to create realistic younger versions of established characters.