Hello, I had a writing-based question I hope you would be able to answer. I’m writing a book in which I feature several characters from the public domain. The setting will not be the original setting that any of the characters are from. I want to write these characters as respectfully to the original authors’ stories as possible while it still being my own story, along with not disappointing too many fans of the original works either. Would you have any tips for my writing these characters? (If it matters, in this case I’m using specifically horror-based characters including but not limited to Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and Jekyll and Hyde.)
That sounds like a fun project!
However, I think you might be at risk of trying to please too many people. Every story in classic literature will have many takes and viewpoints, and you can’t do them all. For instance, if you want to please fans, which fans? The common take by the transformative fandom community will be very different than what the literary community thinks. Even the idea of being respectful to the original story opens up a lot of questions about what being respectful means. Classic stories are products of their time, and a good retelling makes changes for a modern audience.
You’re not a big-budget studio with an exclusive license to bring a well-loved book to the big screen, so your depiction won’t deprive fans of seeing other portrayals of these characters. And since there will be other works out there with these characters, you’ll want your depiction to be different from them. With some characters, there is a risk of making your version feel like a totally different person who happens to have the same name. But the characters you’ve chosen have really distinct powers, etc. As long as Dorian Gray has a painting that ages for him, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.
Now, if you’re interested in how people have responded to and imagined these characters, you can consume other works about them and then see if there’s some stories with them in fandom collections like AO3. It doesn’t hurt to see what aspects of the characters have captured the popular imagination. You’ll know what’s been done, and you can look up reviews to see how people have responded. But again, I don’t think you should try to make everyone happy; I think you’ll enjoy more success if you follow a vision of your own.
Best wishes with whatever direction you decide to go in,