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Wicked—or it’s okay to play with (some) characters

Wicked the Musical is the child of the Oz books by Frank L Baum, the movie, the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire, and is something new altogether. It’s a great example of taking something old and making something new out of it.

There are a lot of derivative works–some of them are based on characters like Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and a thousand other cultural icons. When you sit down to write, if you are inspired to play with those (as long as they’re not under copyright–DON’T DO THAT) go for it. If they’re under copyright, then fanfic is a great way for you to play with those characters, but I caution you not to monetize someone else’s characters.

As someone who has been writing for over thirty years, I’ve done my share of writing fanfic and with messing around with characters not under copyright.

My most recently published story “For Love of Snow White” in Myths Monsters Mutations (edited by Jessica Augustsson) is a take on Snow White. Many years ago, I was inspired to write a story where the “evil queen” was actually not evil at all, but the victim of a smear campaign. When I sat down to polish it for Jessica, she talked to me about what was my story really about. Sure, it was Snow White, but what was really my angle? Sure, the evil queen wasn’t really evil, but then why was she there? Why would she stay? What made my Snow White story different?

I realized what my story was actually about was the idea of beauty as a curse (in the end, a literal one), and the struggle between pagan and Christian traditions. (The “new religion” in the story isn’t ever actually called out as Christianity, but it’s somewhat obvious that that’s who I’m talking about.) It grew organically from there. Yes, it’s a Snow White story, but the bones of the Snow White story are just that–the bones.

The Mists of Avalon is also about paganism and Christianity, but told through the framework of the Arthurian legends.

I collect Cinderella tales, and one of my favorites (for children) is called Cinder Edna, which contrasts the eminently practical Edna, who lives next to Ella. But rather than depend on a fairy godmother for everything, Edna does things for herself. There are also countless YA and adult versions of the Cinderella myth, not to mention all the movies.

I just finished Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. In some ways it’s another take on the Romeo and Juliet story, but it’s also it’s own thing. Livvy and Nicholas are nothing like the very young Juliet and Romeo.

One of my favorite fanfic stories is Harry Potter and the Eagle of Truthiness, written by an author I knew on Literotica when I was more active there. It places the Stephen Colbert persona from the Colbert Report as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts, and is hilarious.

So don’t worry about being derivative, as long as you’re original.

Which brings me back to Wicked, the musical. (From here on out Wicked is the musical, Wicked is the book). I am seeing it for the fifth or sixth time today, and my youngest daughter is seeing it for the first time. Sure Wicked is the story of Glinda and Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West) before Dorothy shows up. But it’s also a story of a power hungry government suppressing its citizens and creating scapegoats (gee, how timely it feels today). It’s the story of railing against the system from the outside versus the inside. Sure it’s also a story about a love triangle, but to boil it down to that is to rob it of its complexity.

Wicked is very different from Wicked, which is a far more overtly political book. Personally I found Wicked to be a slog, and was disappointed in how little character development there was outside of politics (IN MY OPINION, DON’T @ ME.) Those of you expecting the book at the musical and vice versa are bound to be upset. Each is its own thing. Which is okay.

I will, however, admit to being a hypocrite, because if we’re talking Ella Enchanted (my favorite intermediate fiction Cinderella story–I’m a former teacher, so I’ve read a lot of children’s literature, and I’m very involved in the books my children read), I adore the book and think every copy of the movie should be burned. Sure the movie is it’s own thing, but I HATE it. Sorry, but even Anne Hathaway can’t save it.

So when you write, don’t be afraid of putting your own spin on a myth, legend, fairy tale, or story in the public domain. But know that you’ll probably never make everyone happy (hi, Ella Enchanted the movie), and that’s okay, too.