Monthly Archives: November 2013
Last week, I discussed how to bring an established literary character into your work. However, I neglected to mention perhaps the best example of this process to date, which I plan to rectify today. This work comes from the mind of British comic writer Alan Moore, who achieved tremendous fame with both his licensed work (Batman: The Killing Joke, Swamp Thing, For the Man Who Has Everything) and his original stories (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell). However, he has also done an intriguing mix of the two, merging classic characters of largely British literature, with stories and plots that could easily be part of any modern comic. This is that tale, the story derived from so many others- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Beginning right in the aftermath of Dracula, the graphic novel begins with Mina Harker, now divorced and disgraced, being recruited into the British government by Campion Bond (grandfather of Ian Fleming’s James Bond). She is assigned to recruit a team of literary characters- Allan Quartermain (from H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mine), Dr. Jekyll (Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde), Hawley Griffin (H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man), while being guided by Captain Nemo (Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Once assembled, the League must do battle with Fu Manchu for a deadly substance, only to unknowingly hand it to their dishonest employer, Professor Moriarty (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes). The Leauge is able to wrestle the substance back, with Mycroft Holmes taking over as employer, just as meteorites fall towards London (hinting at H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds).
What Writers Can Learn- Adaptation, Revival, Character Study
While some may be familiar with this title through the disastrous film adaptation (which Moore has decried, along with all other adaptions of his work), the source material is truly amazing. Moore’s stories wisely focuses on very well known novels, but throughout the volumes (the above story is only volume 1), he sprinkles in various characters from Dr. Moreau to John Carter, making this comic a tremendous grab for literary minded readers. And rather then simply name drop, Moore makes sure each character has value- the members of the League each bring something special to the team, John Carter forces the Martians from Mars and onto Earth, and Dr. Moreau has knowledge of a compound needed to stop the Martian takeover.
However, Moore also works to portray these established characters in their original light. Captain Nemo is portrayed as Indian, a detail from the original text usually ignored, and is, true to form, quick to leave the League upon a seeming betrayal. The Invisible Man, who suffered from anger and madness in the novel, is shown with the same issues, being found in a convent where ‘immaculate conception’ is occurring. He proves to be a traitor in later volumes, where he attacks Mina, and hands over Britain to invaders. These traits are also expanded as the story progresses- Hyde, for all his savagery, is shown to be capable of civility and heroism, and becomes friends with Mina (who, as in Dracula, shows quiet intelligence as leader and is desired by ‘monsters’). Quartermain, the rugged hero, has aged and while still of value, is generally underplayed and seems aware of his age. There is even a stab at modern works, with an unnamed take on Harry Potter that is likely to shock fans. But at the same time, seeing these characters together in a group is a true treat for readers. Plotting a group story means making sure that the characters are strong enough to stand alone, but bring value to a group. Here, we have an established group that has never before worked together. Readers are familiar with the names, but are able to see new takes and look at how such a ragtag group might both succeed and fail to work together.
LOEG is a worthwhile read simply because of the strong writing of Alan Moore, but it offers a wealth of literature as well. Writer can learn about expanding upon established characters, and with luck, find new sources to draw upon for their work. At the same time, they will see strong group dynamics, some rather dark twists, and strong character devolpemtn for iconic heroes and villains. Simply put, this is a not to be missed literary tool that will open doors for newer and stronger writing from anyone who reads it.
Before I go, a Happy Thanksgiving to my readers, and remember that my giveaway will end after the holiday, so be sure to register if you haven’t already. And finally, I will be appearing at the Cranford NJ Library next week, so be sure to stop by if you’re in the area. Happy Turkey Day!
Greetings once again readers. First and foremost, I must apologize for my lack of a post last week, as personal and technical problems kept me away from the blog. But those problems appear to be solved now, so I’m back up to speak on a rather difficult aspect of writing and adaptation- writing about an established character. Oftentimes, there are literary characters that can have legs in multiple stories and setting, or can do with a reboot, so writers can feel a desire to write about them. While in the wrong hands, it can come off as bad fanfiction, or worse, cause a legal problem, it can be done well, so long as you follow a set of proper standards.
#1 Legal Issues
To begin with, you must follow the legal aspects of adapting a character. Any current character is off-limits due to their owners still have copyright. You could get around this by communicating with them and getting legal rights, but it is a long and lengthy process. However, the age of the original story does make a difference. Any story over a hundred years old falls into public domain, meaning that those character no longer have any copyright. So while you cannot put Bella and Edward into your story, Dracula is no problem.
#2 Getting it Right
Once you have a character you can insert, you then have work at getting their core aspects done properly. Remember, this is a character that people have expectations of, and writing such a character improperly will result in sever backlash. Study the source material, see how the character acts, what his or her motivations are, and how they work. This is an absolutely vital part of the process- imagine a Broadway Phantom of the Opera, where all the writer had to draw from was the name of the story. Even if he or she got close to the source material, they most likely create something that was far removed from it and anger fans’ expectations. Sequels can also try to add on story, and this has had mixed results, such as The Phantom of Manhattan (which was also made into a musical, Love Never Dies). And there are certainly parodies and satires, but for any of these to work, there must be an understanding of the source material for the tone to function.
#3 Knowing Reactions
The other reason for knowing the character is to be able to work them into your story. You are taking this character out of their established element and putting them into your own. You need to know how they would react. I can give an example of my own here; early on, I attempted to write a story about Dracula being resurrected by a Twilight fan. To prepare, I first read Dracula over, taking notes on his behaviors, and the general tone of the story. That way, in my story, where Dracula is brought back as a teenager, I knew that he would use that form to his advantage, and be planning how he would adapt to this new world.
#4 Making The Character Yours
This is the hardest part. As any screenwriter will tell you, an adaption needs to balance both the true nature of the character, and have some stamp of the writer involved. Going too far in either direction can spell disaster. Again, I faced this problem with my own writing. I needed to have some way to make Dracula different, and give a new feel. Even as a teenager, I envisioned him to be the same- charming, dark, and always thinking. So instead, I delved into the original, and gave Dracula a chance to speak his mind on the heroes that had vanquished him. Here, I added some comic touches, having Dracula reveal how idealized the heroes had been- Harker became an overly-pretentious Englishman, Dr. Seward a cold, studious, purveyor of lunatics, and Van Helsing a disgraced professor willing to help anyone for food. And at the same time, I gave Dracula great respect for Mina, saying that she was the one who ultimately caused his death by outthinking him, a rare feat. In that way, I gave the readers a different look at the original story and of Dracula himself.
Using an established character is a risk, but with proper care, it can be make a story have tremendous depth. I have seen H.P. Lovecraft thrown into Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and G.I. Joe, with each succeeding because of the respect and accuracy given to the source material. Any writer trying to do this must treat the character as they would a loaned tool- give it care, but use it to effectively complete the job. And above all, remember that you are touching a legacy when you use another character- it is not a chance for you to impose your own vision of them, but rather a chance to uphold the legacy that already exists.