New Characters Wanted

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Jane Austen was a vampire…Pride & Prejudice meets Zombies or Predator…

What next – Charles Dickens as a serial killer? Charlotte Bronte as a transgender PI? I’ve had enough of people ripping off famous authors, famous characters and famous historical figures. Create your own bloody characters I say!

Inspired by yesterday’s blog post on creating powerful characters that jump off the page I simply had to vent today (yes, it’s my Monday rant!) about the use of what I call gimmicks rather than characters. I know that in today’s commercial environment, the publishing industry (just as the movie industry) wants name recognition but really…WTF???

In Australia we used to have a segment called ‘what cheeses me off’ – and here’s mine for today – a list if you will of character gimmicks that drive me nuts.

  1. The rehash of past literary detectives – enough with Sherlock Holmes already! The only one who has pulled this off (in my mind) is Laurie R King and she created her own terrific character in Mary Russell on top of pulling off the aged beekeeping Holmes with aplomb…but for everyone else – enough!
  2. The ‘other perspective’ gimmick – Does the world really need Mr Knightly’s diary? What next – Uriah Heep’s peeping tom memoirs? Confessions of a rake by Mr Willoughby?
  3. The never ending sequel – Once a classic is done, it’s done as far as I’m concerned – so I don’t need to read Mr. Darcy’s Daughters or Pemberley the sequel (the latter was particularly bizarre I felt, though I confess I did read it!). The only ‘sequel’ I appreciated was the two books written by Jill Paton Walsh based on Dorothy L. Sayers unfinished notes.
  4. Real life historical figures as sleuths….I’m just not buying the King/Queen who can sneak out of court and go sleuthing…

Now don’t get me wrong, some people have managed to pull off these things and more power to them if their book sells. Jasper Fforde has a hilarious series featuring Thursday Next that spoofs all sorts of literary figures (I particularly loved the therapy session for the cast of Wuthering Heights in which Healthcliff [now a porn star known as the Black Stallion] arrives and then the session is disturbed by a bomb thrown by the pro-Catherine faction) – but unless you can achieve that level of sublime satire, I say, leave well alone.

In this environment, however, everyone seems to want the easy fix – the ‘hook’ that will draw in the sales without having to do the hard work of creating new ‘jump off the page’ characters. Call me old fashioned but the classics of tomorrow are not going to be reheated leftovers from previous classics – or are they? I sometimes wonder and despair…

So what ‘cheeses’ you off when it comes to rehashed characters…any others to add to my list?

7 thoughts on “New Characters Wanted

  1. Templars. They are getting on my nerves.

    What I’d like to see is an entirely new crop of heros and heroines. While knowing there are only so many new ways to write a character, I also believe that that must be something we don’t know, haven’t thought of in the past few hundred years.

    Then again, maybe what Wise King Solomon said way back when really is true. “There is nothing new under the sun. Everything that will be done, has already been done.”

    Maybe the answer is to dig back farther than a hundred years to more ancient classics and then it will at least appear that we are using new characters. If we dig into more obscure literature, it would be like something new. For instance not to many people are into Papua New Guinea canibal romance literature…could be a gold mine.

  2. I totally agree on the grumpy old detectives and Templars:) but as you say Basil there probably isn’t much that’s actually new…though I’m happy to be spared the constant rehashing of well-worn characters we seem to be getting these days!

  3. Nobody can pull off a PI who’s also the Queen or a dog, cat or any farm animal who solves a mystery. And yet some sell books with animals digging up or spitting out clues with their hairballs. At least I’ve been so told.

  4. Ah the animal sleuth…I’d forgotten to add that to my list:) How about the psychic animal sleuth too – a rare talent indeed!

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