It started when I was back in Virginia and asked my dad if he wanted me to shoot more videos for his company, and he said:
“Well, what I’d really like to do is write a movie…”
My ears perked up. This sounded way more fun than corporate videos.
“What’s it about?” I asked.
“It’s called The Haunting of Bob Cratchit,” he said.
Let me back up. My dad is fascinated by Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Since as far back as I can remember him writing a monthly financial column, every year he has written something about A Christmas Carol around the holidays. I thought his first article was 11 years ago, but my sister corrected me – my dad has actually been writing about Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol for nearly 17 years. You can read his articles here.
One of the questions that drove his curiosity was: Why is Bob Cratchit so poor? Bob should have been able to support his family, yet Tiny Tim lacked medical care. My dad developed a theory, based on his knowledge of finance, history, and Dickens. Over time, this theory developed into a story of it’s own. My dad laid out an outline he’d been tinkering with for years and added “but I don’t think I’m very good at dialogue. It’s all too on the nose.” I read what he had. He was right. Still, the story structure was solid and the concept was great. He asked me if I wanted to work on it with him. I said yes.
We had a simple routine. Every Wednesday, we’d meet for burgers, talk about the scene I wrote, and then I’d ask him questions about the next scene. What does the scene need to accomplish, why do the characters make their choices, etc. I think my dad just wanted to spend time with me as much as he wanted to write the script. I felt the same.
As I wrote, some scenes evolved a bit beyond the original outline. There’s a scene in the fourth stave (no spoilers, but you’ll know it when you read it) that came entirely channeled in one sitting and made me tear up when I saw it. It made others who read it feel the same, so we kept it basically the same from first to final draft. Other scenes needed a lot of editing. For example, the character of Emily Cratchit needed to be developed more. What do you know about her in the original A Christmas Carol? Almost nothing. Yet, in our story, she is the wife of the title character, so she needed to play a bigger role.
Once we had a script, we had that moment of suddenly realizing if we sell this (which is a big “if”) they’ll probably hire someone to rewrite us. Movies get changed all the time. We couldn’t produce a period piece with crowd scenes and visual effects ourselves, but we still wanted to tell this story. We decided to turn it into a novel, with exactly the same story and dialogue as we’d already written. I asked a writer friend of mine, Aaron Carver, to help as I’d been staring at this story for over a year. He did a first pass from the screenplay, and then we went back and forth in revision mode, much like me and my dad had. It took far less time since the story was already written in one format.
Our idea with the film was always to make it feel like this story took place in the same classic world of A Christmas Carol. If we wanted to do the same in a novel, we had to make our writing feel like Charles Dickens. Dickens is a hard writer to imitate. When we were writing the screenplay, every now and then my dad would give me a note we had to change a line of dialogue because it was way too long. I’d have to tell him “that’s Dickens.” We lifted word for word from the original. “Well, you’re dialogue’s better,” he said, laughing. You can tell Dickens got paid by the word, but there are some turns of phrase that still stand out in your mind, like this description of a character: “Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing.” Does that sound like the A Christmas Carol you remember? It’s in the book.
Working within another writer’s world forces you to learn their language and ways of thinking. The script was one level, the novel another. I feel like I know Dickens at this point. He’s a weird guy. Most people think of A Christmas Carol as a heartwarming story. A man is miserly at the beginning, and generous at the end. They forget the middle has all of these strange phantoms. It’s a ghost story. There are supernatural elements. There are moments of horror and moments of humor. Yet, it’s still a family story. Removing those elements from the familiar makes them new again.
A Christmas Carol is a great story, but the way it’s told in most adaptations isn’t as original. Our hope is that this book gives you the feeling you had the first time you heard this story, and then goes deeper into the world and characters to show you something new. It showed me something new. My dad has been able to find something new in it each year for nearly 17 years. No matter how familiar you are with A Christmas Carol, this book has something new for you too.