Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Using other people's characters


Inspired by the fanfiction post, I thought it would be interesting to make a list of books (and a play) which use other people's characters.

Without permission, though that's partly because most of the works are in the public domain. But I'll keep the list handy because in a fanfic debate, someone's sure to suggest that using other people's characters shows a lack of originality, creative bankruptcy, laziness, etc. So here's the list:

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard
The Wind Done Gone, Alice Randall
March, Geraldine Brooks
Mrs de Winter, Susan Hill
Good Morning, Irene, Carole Nelson Douglas
MacB, Neil Arksey
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Linda Berdoll
Bored of the Rings, by the Harvard Lampoon
Heathcliff: The Sequel to Wuthering Heights, Lin Haire-Sargeant
Return to Wuthering Heights, Anna L'Estrange
Desire and Duty : A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Ted Bader

In a couple of cases, the characters' names are changed slightly. For instance, MacB (based on Macbeth) has Banksie and Duncan King rather than Banquo and Duncan, the king of Scotland. But on the whole, it's interesting to see how many published works borrow other writers' characters. And this is just the tip of the iceberg - examples I found in ten minutes.

Special mention goes to Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. Margaret Mitchell's estate may have authorized this sequel, but Mitchell herself felt the story stopped where it had to stop.

10 comments:

EB said...

On a similar note, there is this post: http://bookshop.dreamwidth.org/999259.html

writtenwyrdd said...

And there are at least six other books riffing off Jane Austen, including another one that's I believe a prequel to "Pride, Prejudice and Zombies." Ugh.

Marian said...

I've heard Colleen McCullough's book on Mary Bennet takes certain, um, liberties with the characters as well.

"The novel begins 20 years after Austens classic ends, with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy trapped in a passionless marriage, Jane a spineless baby machine, Lydia an alcoholic tramp, Kitty a cheerfully vapid widow and Mary a naïve feminist and social crusader. Shrewish Mrs. Bennet's death frees Mary from her caretaker duties, and, inspired by the writings of a crusading journalist, Mary sets off to document the plight of Englands poor. Along the way, she is abused, robbed and imprisoned by the prophet of a cave-dwelling cult. Darcy is the books villain..."

Zahir Blue said...

Some others...

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Mansfield Park and Mummies
Anno Dracula series
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

JH said...

But I'll keep the list handy because in a fanfic debate, someone's sure to suggest that using other people's characters shows a lack of originality, creative bankruptcy, laziness, etc.

IMO, in the context of writing fanfiction, it often does indicate some "lack of effort" at coming up with original ideas, although I shy away from moral judgments such as "creative bankruptcy" or "idea theft." Many fanfic authors seem to be either novice/amateur writers getting a feel for the craft with the "training wheels" of someone else's characters, or practiced and/or accomplished writers taking a break. There's nothing ~wrong with that~ but I'm unwilling to commit synecdoche by qualitatively transmuting all fiction in which characters created by another author appear, into fanfiction.

Comparing the bulk of fanfiction to works in which the author uses another writer's characters for some well-conceived and consciously pursued artistic goal seems problematic, since fanfic authors don't generally seem to have a goal beyond "I am enthusiastic enough about this creative work to want to riff off it with a derived narrative." I am willing to concede that there may be some fanfiction writers who manage to make an artistic or creative statement with the use of another writer's work. It does not seem to be the norm. There is a pretty wide conceptual gap, IMV at least, between several hundred pieces of gushing erotica about hookups between Mulder and Scully, or Spock and Kirk, or Optimus Prime and Megatron; and The Wind Done Gone or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

(The gap is quality and significance!)

Marian said...

No, I agree that the use of someone else's characters =/= fanfiction.

What I wanted to show was that the use of other people's characters doesn't always equate to laziness, unoriginality, etc.

And the other difference between such published work and (most) fanfics is that the published work has been through the filter of agencies and publishers. On the whole, it's going to be better than much of fanfic.

I am willing to concede that there may be some fanfiction writers who manage to make an artistic or creative statement with the use of another writer's work. It does not seem to be the norm.

I completely agree. As someone said on the AW forums, 90% of fanfiction is crap because 90% of everything is crap.

And just to have someone admit there's a possibility that some fanfic writers may make a creative statement with the use of someone else's characters is, IMO, a great concession. :) I feel the same way about parodies like Bored of the Rings and Doon.

JH said...

What I wanted to show was that the use of other people's characters doesn't always equate to laziness, unoriginality, etc.

I agree. But to me, it seems like this is a very "missing the forest for the trees" counter-argument. I don't think anyone who says, "Fanfic writers' use of other peoples' characters shows a lack of originality," is making a normative statement of absolute law about using other authors' creations in general. Just, you know, an observation that by and large fanfic writers are (deliberately or otherwise) not using their full creative potential when they make fanfics, and that forgoing the work of characterization is a part of this.

The real line of division IMO is artistic motivation: are you using a character, world, etc. someone else invented for some meaningful creative end, or because gosh, that series just ended on such a downer, those two were perfect for each other and they never got together, I love it to death but I really want to geek out about how things could have been~! Nothing wrong with the later as a matter of like, creative "jamming" and enthusiasm venting, though.

And just to have someone admit there's a possibility that some fanfic writers may make a creative statement with the use of someone else's characters is, IMO, a great concession.

Hm, well, it seems to me like an easier concession to make than you think. Monkeys should not be flattered by someone's noting that given a sufficient number of them on typewriters, the chance of simians reproducing Hamlet technically approaches 1. I mean, I still haven't seen the 10% that doesn't suck. ;)

Marian said...

"Just, you know, an observation that by and large fanfic writers are (deliberately or otherwise) not using their full creative potential when they make fanfics, and that forgoing the work of characterization is a part of this."

I think there's more to this, though. Fanfic writers (especially those who write original material) may be intending to write something that uses less than their full creative potential.

My mom made delicious five-curry meals. She also made peanut butter sandwiches on occasion.

Or maybe that's the limit of their creative potential, just as the limit of a (hypothetical) romance novelist's creative potential may be bodice-rippers. No offence meant to romance novelists or bodice-rippers.

I've also spent quite a bit of work on fleshing out the Transformers characters I've written about. Good fanfics which take minor characters and make them the stars often do this - they have to, because in canon, such characters are often ciphers.

"The real line of division IMO is artistic motivation: are you using a character, world, etc. someone else invented for some meaningful creative end..."

I have a feeling that different people will have different definitions of what a meaningful and creative end is. :)

"I mean, I still haven't seen the 10% that doesn't suck."

I'm really hoping that's because you haven't read my stuff. Because if you had, and still said that...

:D

JH said...

I think there's more to this, though. Fanfic writers (especially those who write original material) may be intending to write something that uses less than their full creative potential.

Yup; this possibility is why I said "deliberately or otherwise." I mean, of course writers have no obligation to use their full creative potential, but then, no external commentator has any obligation to describe the product as anything other than lacking originality.

I have a feeling that different people will have different definitions of what a meaningful and creative end is.

Well personally, my definition doesn't include masturbatory author-inserts/Mary Sues, wish-fulfillment slashfic, zany "What if?" mashups/battles royale, and other staples of the form. Basically fanfics seem to exist to vent enthusiasm and frustration, and channeling that for a writing project is probably way fun, but it's the artistic equivalent of a jam session: no one but the artist and their hardest-core fans has any reason to give a shit about something that self-indulgent.

And no, I haven't read your fanfics, but I also don't think whether I would like them matters. Like I said, fanfic is an intensely personal enthusiasm vent, it exists for the writer alone, and for an actual accomplished and practiced writer, it's the equivalent of a big deal rock band noodling out freeform in a garage or an NBA team playing HORSE. I generally like GRRM, but the crap he wrote about Jamie vs. Rand al-Thor was basically him writing fanfic of his own shit and it straight-up sucked. I mean there's nothing wrong with some old fat guy having a wank, but it's not necessarily going to be fun to watch.

Marian said...

"I mean, of course writers have no obligation to use their full creative potential, but then, no external commentator has any obligation to describe the product as anything other than lacking originality."

Maybe that would fall under the label of "reviews". I've always felt that it's best not to get worked up over negative reviews of your work - just say thank you and move on - so perhaps that's also the best response for such comments regarding fanfic.

But does fanfic still exist for the writer alone if there are online communities devoted to it? I agree, a lot of fanfic writers do it for their own pleasure, but others seem to enjoy sharing their work with an audience as well.

And then there are the fanfic writers (albeit not many) who were hired in an official capacity by the Star Trek and Transformers franchises.

But I didn't even remember the GRRM fic until now. Interesting, that he's requested people not write fanfics of his work because it's uncreative. And yet he wrote a fanfic using Robert Jordan's characters. Hmm.