My Expanded Universe of Fictional Atlanta came about when I realized a character I created for a play I was writing in 2011 was the same individual maligned by the lead character in a novel I had shelved around 2000. That novel, Boom Town, featured a character named David Cairo (pronounced “kay-ro” like the Georgia town) who starts a web development company in Atlanta in 1996 and takes it public a year later, becoming a multi billionaire. The character is loosely based on Ted Turner’s story from the seventies, building superstation TBS and starting CNN. Cairo resurfaced in Fables of the New South, published in 2017 and Boom Town is back in the queue for development in the near future.
In addition to two story collections, the Expanded Universe has produced three plays, with a fourth in development, and one novel based on one of the plays with a second in the works. I’m also developing other characters and stories that are peripheral to the main storyline. Whenever I mention a character by name in any story, it’s likely that character will be developed in a future work.
One of the challenges in writing a series is continuity and consistency. Events in Fables of the New South affected the development of Rebecca Too, which, in turn, had implications for what happens in Reconstruction. My play, Another Mother, is currently on hold due to the fact that my developing story, Worthy, deals with the circumstances of the play. Oftentimes, the scripted version of a work looks very different than its prose counterpart. In Rebecca Too, there’s a character called The Storyteller, who’s based on the author (It’s a perfectly valid literary device), and the ten-year-old version of Alyssa Caine is part of the mix. For the staged version, these characters are merged, so Young Aly, as she’s called in the script, takes on double duty as The Storyteller.
Placing characters outside the work in which they were conceived often helps in their development. The most notable example is Claire Belmonte, who originated as a minor character in Rebecca Too, but came into her own as a major protagonist in Fables. I was finally able to answer questions about her that lingered from the time she was defined solely by her relationship with another character. Giving her a chance to shine in Fables led to her becoming a major figure in the Expanded Universe.
A similar circumstance is developing with Lisa Summers, who, so far, has only been mentioned in “Rain Maker” in Reconstruction, but who’s been a major presence in a developing story Office Politics. She already has potential ties to several existing characters and shows up in Worthy, though still in an unseen, behind the scenes role. She’s another character who has been underdeveloped in my previous attempts at telling her story and is only now starting to assert herself on the page. I look forward to developing her adventures, since she has the potential to have a major impact on a number of tales.
My advice to any writer is to not ignore the world in which one’s characters exist. Just as individuals are shaped by their environment, the world one’s characters inhabit have a huge impact on their development. One should never be afraid to pull characters out of a given situation and allow them room to move about and grow. My current work in progress, Worthy, came about because I wanted to explore the backstory of a minor character in Another Mother. What I’m developing in this story will have implications for everything that came before and will come after. Needless to say, the Universe continues to expand.