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April 14, 2022

Writing Sequels and Prequels: “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”

Suppose you've sold your first film, great job! But as soon as you've sent your script off for the final time, your thoughts must now inevitably turn to a prequel or, perhaps, a sequel.

But how do you find the momentum to keep your plot going without burning out? How do you keep things original without boring your audience? Let's look closely at Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, the eleventh film in the Harry Potter franchise, to see how the writers do this successfully!

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore plays around with familiar characters

One of the great things about writing a sequel or a prequel is the capacity to offer viewers a different side to a familiar character. For example, in The Secrets of Dumbledore, we are positioned in the 1930s with a middle-aged Dumbledore instead of the older man we knew in the 1990s timeline of the original Harry Potter films.

The Fantastic Beasts cast includes Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore in place of Michael Gambon and Richard Coyle, replacing Ciarán Hinds as Albus' short-tempered brother Aberforth.

This younger Albus Dumbledore is still the quirky professor we love, but he's more flawed since he hasn't learned all of the lessons of his past. We expand on things in his past that where only hinted at in Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2, such as his complex relationship with his brother Aberforth and the circumstances surrounding the death of his sister Arianna.

Older and younger versions of Albus Dumbledore are pictured.
Jude Law adds new layers to a character we love and know from Harry Potter: Albus Dumbledore.

Since he is a younger man, Dumbledore is more mobile and, thus, more heavily involved in dueling sequences in this film. In contrast, there is only one major duel sequence featuring Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. We also touch on Dumbledore's romantic relationships.

This film is set decades before the original Harry Potter timeline. We also see Dumbledore with a different set of companions, many of whom are merely footnotes in the original series. Newt Scamander, the main character of Fantastic Beasts, is retired and the author of a school textbook. Old Dumbledore never mentions him. Nicholas Flamel - who we encounter in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald - is referred to in the Philosopher's Stone because he owns the stone, but Dumbledore says he is an old friend.

We also see a much younger McGonagall. She is still as stern as ever and is still very much the understudy to Dumbledore, knocking on the door of the Hog's Head and agreeing to take one of his classes for him, a nod to the fact she is his eventual successor as headmaster at Hogwarts.

How to expand your story

Consider your character arcs and what your main and minor characters would be up to in the past and the future. Think about your own life and what kind of friends you had when you were younger. What lessons did you learn from them? And how many of your childhood friends are you still in touch with?

You don't want to make your characters utterly different in their future and past timelines because the audience wouldn't recognize them. Instead, create characters similar enough to their original character yet different enough there is intrigue about their past.

Constructing the meta-narrative

Why do we love sequels and prequels so much, and why does Hollywood keep making them? We enjoy the familiarity of characters and stories we love while also getting something new as an audience. One way of doing this is through a meta-narrative. This means telling a new story that adds layers and new meaning to the original film's plot.  

Sequels are one way of doing this. We get the continuation of the story: loose ends, not property tied up, can be explored, and we can unearth the emotional impact of the original plot on characters in a future story. The antagonist's child in the sequel, for example, may wish to avenge their parents' death, becoming the new villain as we see with the character of Harry Osborn in the 2007 film Spiderman 3.  

Harry Osbourne aka the Green Goblin.
Spider-man's best friend turned villain, Harry Osbourne.

The Secrets of Dumbledore is both a sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them adding new layers to these films, and a prequel to the Harry Potter films.

Prequels, however, give further context about why the events in the original story came to be. The five Fantastic Beasts films will cover the timeline from 1926 - to 1945.

This will overlap with the timeline in Harry Potter: Voldermort was born in 1926 and attended Hogwarts between 1938 and 1945. While Fantastic Beasts tells a new story set in the past about Dumbledore and Grindelwald, this story may help us explain the context surrounding Voldermort's time at school and why Dumbledore was not able to stop him as a child.

Crimes Of Grindelwald introduced Voldermort's snake Nagini as a real woman with a blood curse that would eventually turn her into a snake permanently. She acts as a companion to Credence, but her presence in the plot is also an easter egg for fans who've seen the original films and may eventually expect to get answers as to her relationship with Voldermort.

Meanwhile, we visit locations from the original series, including The Room Of Requirement, Hogsmeade Village, and even briefly the office in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, which will be occupied by Gilderoy Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets and Remus Lupin in Prisoner of Azkaban. These are on top of the film's new locations, including the German Ministry of Magic and Bhutan.

Consider how your prequel can intersect with your original script and what extra information about the story and characters your audience may wish to know.

Write your prequel or sequel today

The great thing about using screenwriting software like Arc Studio Pro to write your screenplay is when you come to write your prequel or sequel, you can set off exactly where you left off, using all of your storyboards and beats to begin plotting your next film.

Start by considering what characters and plot lines you'd like to explore in more detail and think about where your characters might be in the past and the future. Then start teasing these into new plot lines and add to your character's arcs.

The process of writing a whole new script might seem daunting, but coming back to familiar characters and storylines can ease the pressure of the blank page.

Happy writing!


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Writing Sequels and Prequels: “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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