Stuck for an idea to develop?
As a writer, I’m constantly looking for new approaches and new ideas to write about. I’m guessing you do the same.
In recent years, there have been a number of books that have been written about characters developed by writers in the past – such as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide and others that are available for any writer today to use and spin off because they are in the Public Domain.
My friend Peter Clines wrote a great twisted novel entitled The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe and parodies like Sense and Sensibilities and Zombies received such critical acclaim that they have been in development as motion pictures.
Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. That means that any writer can continue to tell the tales of the characters – by writing prequels or sequels to existing stories, adaptations and continuing adventures, or develop entirely new approaches using these characters – without paying for the privilege or worrying about copyright issues. Not only is this a great writing exercise, but it can also be very profitable if you can match your skills with a character the public is still interested in.
Below is just a small list of famous writers and their stories that are in the public domain.
Take a look and see if there’s anything that suits your fancy. If interested in learning more about how to spin off public domain stories and the different approaches you can take to develop these characters, drop me a line in the Comment section here and I’ll develop the concept in a future post.
One other thought: if you write a novel inspired by or a screenplay adaptation of these works, be sure to make your source the lead when you pitch your story to an agent. Nothing says credibility like a little Literature, with a capital “L.”
Horatio Alger: Novelist famous for his rags-to-riches stories. All of his work is in the public domain. Famous stories include The Store Boy and Ragged Dick.
Hans Christian Anderson: All of this famous Dane’s works are in the public domain. Famous stories include Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Princess and the Pea.
Jane Austen: She has become one of the go-to storytellers in Hollywood in recent years. Well-known novels include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.
Honore de Balzac: Famous stories include The Girl With the Golden Eyes and Father Goriot.
Charlotte Bronte: All of her work is in the public domain including her most famous novel Jane Eyre.
Emily Bronte: Just like her sister, all of her work is in the public domain. Her only novel is the oft-filmed Wuthering Heights.
Frances Hodgson Burnett: Best known for the children’s stories The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. All of her works are in the public domain.
Edgar Rice Burroughs: Creator and author of Tarzan of the Apes. Only some of his work is in the public domain including the original Tarzan of the Apes and At the Earth’s Core. Be sure to check the availability of his other stories before considering using his other works.
Lewis Carroll: Famous mathematician and author whose works include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through The Looking Glass and The Hunting Of The Snark. All of his work is in the public domain.
James Fenimore Cooper: His more famous tales include The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer.
Daniel Defoe: All of his works are in the public domain. His most well-known stories are Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.
Charles Dickens: All of Dickens’s work is in the public domain. Famous stories include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Most, but not all, of his works are in the public domain. The later Sherlock Holmes stories may not yet fall under the public domain but all of his stories before 1923 have including many involving his most famous creation Sherlock Holmes. Other well-known stories include The Poison Belt and The Lost World.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: All of his works are in the public domain including Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: All of this German writer’s works are in the public domain. His most famous works include The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust.
Brothers Grimm: Two German brothers who were famous collectors of fairy tales. Their versions of the famous fairy tales are all in the public domain including such cherished gems as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood.
Nathaniel Hawthorne: All of his writings are in the public domain so go ahead and try to write a new version of The Scarlet Letter or The House of the Seven Gables. Stories like these work great when set in more modern times with hip and sophisticated contemporary characters.
Homer: Not Simpson, but the Greek guy who wrote the epic poems , The Odyssey and The Iliad, both of which are in the public domain.
James Joyce: You can based your novel on some of Joyce’s well-known works like Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Franz Kafka: This unique writer has a few stories that have fallen in the public domain. The most famous being The Metamorphosis.
Rudyard Kipling: Some, but not all, of Kipling’s work is in the public domain including The Jungle Book.
Jack London: All of this great American writer’s body of work is in the public domain. His most famous stories include The Call of the Wild and White Fang.
H. P. Lovecraft: All of this bizarre horror writer’s work before 1923 is in the public domain.
Herman Melville: All of this author’s work is in the public domain. His most famous story is the required reading for high school students: Moby Dick. A thought — ever wonder where Jaws came from? Just sayin’.
Edgar Allan Poe: Filmmaker Roger Corman has exploited much of Poe’s work and you can too. All of this macabre author’s work is in the public domain. His more famous works include The Raven, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mask of Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tell-Tale Heart.
Rudolf Erich Raspe: All of his works are in the public domain including his most famous story The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
William Shakespeare: Old Bill has been dead for a long time; hence, all of his work is in the public domain. Try your own take on Hamlet, Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet.
Mary Shelley: All of her writing is in the public domain including Frankenstein. Her other famous books include The Last Man and Matilda.
Robert Louis Stevenson: All of this writer’s work is in the public domain including the popular stories Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, and New Arabian Nights.
Bram Stoker: All of this writer’s work is in the public domain including Dracula, The Jewel of Seven Stars, The Lady of the Shroud and The Lair of the White Worm.
Mark Twain: All of this great writer’s works are in the public domain. His most famous stories are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Jules Verne: All of this entertaining French writer’s work is in the public domain. His most famous works include Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, The Mysterious Island and Around the World in Eighty Days.
H.G. Wells: Only some of Wells’s stories are in the public domain but they include The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau and The War of the Worlds. Most of the great modern time travel stories, both books and films, owe a nod of thanks to this author.
Oscar Wilde: All of this great playwright’s work is in the public domain. His most famous stories are The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest.
Johann David Wyss: This writer’s most famous story The Swiss Family Robinson is in the public domain.
Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator. His most recent comic book property is THE AMBASSADOR and his most recent project for TV is entitled THE STREWN. His new writing book is tentatively entitled “SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!” (Release TBA.)
Larry’s add to Art’s bio: when he’s not on set doing rewrite work or chasing a deadline for a studio script assignment, he’s also a major screenwriting teacher at the University level, a story development coach and a sought-after workshop facilitator at writing conferences around the world.