Guest Post by D.A. Serra, author of Primal
Usually when I choose a topic and begin a story the catalyst is a particular phrase, or sometimes an idea, that speaks directly to a plotline or a character. Primal was a bit more complicated because it had a life as a screenplay before it grew into a novel, and I did create the original screenplay for a very definite purpose – originally as a protest.
I had been working for years in Hollywood as a screenwriter. At that time, there was a tacit understanding among producers and studios that women didn’t (or couldn’t) write gritty action. It was simply understood that if you wanted a hardcore thriller or action story you looked for a male writer. After a while that started to grate on me, and not only because it meant there was less work for women, but mainly because I knew it wasn’t true. I decided to prove them wrong: not only would I write a hard-edged thriller, but I would do it with a female protagonist, who would ultimately end the story by using devices only a women would think to use. Consequently, when I set off to construct Primal I had a goal and something to prove.
My protagonist, Alison Kraft, and her family grew effortlessly inside my imagination, and so did the psychotic Ben Burne and his family. Imagining the lives and hearing the voices of characters comes more easily to me than plot, which requires more effort. I set to writing. When the screenplay was finished I brought it to my agent and told him I wanted it sent to producers under the gender-neutral initials D.A. Serra, instead of my whole name Deborah. It was the only way to get a fair reading. He agreed and sent it out. The reception was satisfying. I had a number of offers, but was particularly pleased to sell it to James Cameron, because he had proven to be a writer who understood strong female leads like no other. A few years later the film rights were transferred to FOX, and I asked them if I could have the novel rights back. They agreed.
So, it was an unusual road to the completion of Primal as a novel. It was a very enjoyable road since I had such an extraordinary outline in the screenplay. I enjoyed the opportunity to flesh-out the characters, and to laze around inside the story. The story grew into a tale of contrasts: not only the requisite good verses evil, but also, man versus woman, wilderness versus city, family versus family. I was pleased with the way the story emerged.
I do find when I am working that the majority of the time I am pulled between topics. I always have more than one project going at a time, and they are generally in opposite genres. For example, while writing Primal I was working on a non-fiction comedy. I suppose when I stand back from the question of how a writer chooses a topic, I see the very real possibility that the choice is not at all conscious; non-conscious activity probably plays a significant role in that choice. It certainly plays a role in what we’re attracted to, what frightens us, and what makes us laugh. I have just finished the first draft on a novel that explores this current controversy about what we consciously choose and what is driven by unconscious decision-making. It is a concept, very popular in the science literature currently, and it fascinates me.