I never know when a character is going to appear in my head and when he or she does, I never know what kind of journey I’m about to begin. Will it be bumpy, full of twists and turns and obstacles, or will it be pretty smooth sailing? Will it take three months or three years to complete? Some characters appear fully formed and I feel that I know them as well as I know myself. Harley from Back Roads was that kind and Chief Dove Carnahan from my latest novel, Angels Burning, was another.
Then there was Ivan, the Great Ivan Z, from Coal Run. When he first arrived, he was a minor character in his sister Jolene’s novel, and his mother had been killed when he was a child, not his father. I wrote an entire novel from Jolene’s perspective with a living father and it wasn’t until my editor at the time read it and said, “There’s something strange about the father. He seems like a ghost, “ that I realized that was because he was a ghost. He had died in the mine explosion when Ivan was five and making this realization led to me understanding the novel was Ivan’s story, not Jolene’s.
When I began Sister Mine, Shae-Lynn didn’t even exist. I wrote about the five miners who were rescued from the mine cave-in, had a brief bout of celebrity then had to return to real life and the terror of the mines. Upon reading the first two hundred pages my agent said, “It’s great but there’s something missing.” I went back and read the manuscript and realized what was missing was a main character. Kind of an important element in a novel. Suddenly, Shae-Lynn was in my head.
A few years ago I had an idea about a young man who wanted to get people to read more and decided to do it by using a medium he loathed, that he thought was making people stupider by the minute but its popularity was undeniable: reality TV. He came up with an idea for a competition show for writers. Something along the lines of America’s Next Top Model or Chopped. Of course no one wanted to make it. Writers are boring. That was all the farther I got. I could never picture Theo. I didn’t know where he lived or what he was like. I never even knew his name.
For years Theo would bob to the surface of my consciousness – always faceless, always nameless – then disappear again. I couldn’t seem to find a way to make his story work as a novel and that was what I did best. Write novels. I had written a screenplay – the adaptation of Back Roads – but I wasn’t ready yet to tackle an original screenplay.
Long story short – this is a blog, after all – Theo did eventually come to me but for the first time in my writing career, he didn’t appear as a protagonist in a novel, but as the lead in a movie. Then in an ironic twist, writing the screenplay for Rewrites led me to write a novel based on the pasts of six featured characters from the movie, the writers who are the contestants on the TV show.
Rewrites the movie is not based on Backstories the novel, and Backstories isn’t a novelization of Rewrites. Backstories is a unique piece of writing, a stand alone novel, the prequel to a film, both penned by the same writer (me!) People can read the book then see the film to find out what happens next or see the film then read the book to find out what happened first.
You’ll be hearing a lot about Rewrites and Backstories in the next few days. I’m about to launch a crowd funding campaign that will enable my fans to invest in not only the film, but also the novel. This is a different journey for me and my characters and whether you choose to come along by watching them on the screen, or delving between the pages, or possibly helping to bring them to life, I promise you it will be an exciting trip.
Read more about Backstories at TawniO’Dell.com.