Writer’s Journal: Keeping Characters In Character

Welcome back to Austen Promises and the Writer’s Journal!

One of my friends shared with me recently a review or comment of some kind she received. To paraphrase, the reviewer said some things like “I roll my eyes when I see ‘Pride and Prejudice Variation’ in a title. The author should make her own characters.” My reaction was to say, “Does she have any idea how hard it is to keep characters as they are in canon but put them in different situations?”

For those of you who are reading but not involved in the world of Jane Austen fan fiction, “canon” refers to Jane’s original stories. Most often this is Pride and Prejudice, at least for my stories. Jane gave us some main characters that are fully fleshed and rounded out, and readers expect them to stay that way. Her minor characters are less developed, and that has led to some pretty cool stories.

The point of Jane Austen Fan Fiction is to take Austen’s wonderful characters and change their story. Maybe you change one thing and keep the rest of the story as-is. Maybe you change everything, as I did when I wrote Darcy’s Race to Love, my modern adaptation. Or maybe you do something in between.

One thing that must never change, as I alluded to before, is the personalities of Darcy and Elizabeth. Darcy must always be reserved, at least in public, and Elizabeth must always have a tendency to rush to judgment. Readers prefer that they have a “Hunsford moment” in every story, where Elizabeth harshly refuses Darcy’s marriage proposal, though I generally get away without it because my “thing” is that they fall in love and marry quickly and then face the world as a couple. At least one of my closest writer friends also gets away with it. She makes sure they understand each other before Darcy proposes.

The difficulty and challenge of JAFF are to keep Darcy and Elizabeth true to canon and still put them in original situations. For example, Darcy’s Race began as a 300-word one-shot, an exercise to get my writing muscle working again. In that short tidbit, Darcy is witty and charming when he meets Liz and instantly decides to pursue her. Now, Jane Austen doesn’t tell us exactly what he’s like in private with Elizabeth, but most of us seem to think that he is far more relaxed. That makes the most sense, at least to me. Most of us are different in private than we are in public. Anyway, in Darcy’s Race, I had to go back and show Darcy’s reserve in public. At the beginning of the book, he’s in a press conference, and he’s buttoned up tight and leaving folks to think he’s stuck up. If he had not been reserved in public, he’d not have been Darcy. And, if he had insulted Liz when he first met her, it would not have fit the concept of Darcy as a stock car driver. I think, though, that not everyone who reviewed on Amazon read the book because a couple folks seem to have missed that part of it. This leads me to believe that they reviewed the story based on the rough draft I posted here at Austen Promises, which did not contain the initial media center scene.

To the book snobs out there who won’t read fan fiction because FF writers are “stealing” characters: you try to write it and see how well you do. It would be far easier to come up with all original characters in every book, but we love Jane’s characters so much that we can’t let them go. I think she would love to see what we all have done with Darcy, Elizabeth, and all the other characters she created.

Come back next Wednesday for another peek into my journal! <3

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2 thoughts on “Writer’s Journal: Keeping Characters In Character

  1. My main reason for reading (and writing) JAFF is to fall in love with Darcy (or Wentworth or Brandon or whoever) all over again. Most JAFF authors seem to share this perspective.

    • Yes, we do! And heaven help the writer who, in a reader’s view, does not keep Darcy or Wentworth or Brandon or whoever in character, at least according to that reader’s perception of their character. 🙂 JAFF readers are a tough bunch! <3

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