Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

There’s Power in the Public Domain — A Guest Post by Art Holcomb

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.”

Have fun!

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.



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The Value of “Pantsing”

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A Guest Post By Jennifer Blanchard

Since the very beginning of StoryFix, Larry has written about a term he calls “Pantsing,” which is when you write a story by the “seat of your pants.” Doing so, without doing any planning ahead of time, will almost always result in a full-draft rewrite (likely multiple draft rewrites).

But you’ll be a lot closer to knowing what your story is about.

Larry is obviously a huge advocate for story planning—as am I—but I’ve actually received emails from frustrated writers who are upset that Pantsing isn’t taken more seriously.

So I wanted to make a case for Pantsing having a valid place in the storytelling process.

Because that’s the thing about Pantsing. While it might not give you the draft of a story you can use (as will outlining; Larry also stresses that pantsing and outlining have the exact same goals), it will give you clarity on what your story is truly about.

And that, in and of itself, via either method, is gold.

Here are the benefits of Pantsing:

• Story Discovery—when you’re in Pantsing mode, you can go crazy writing whatever comes to you with regard to your story. You can write the details that inspire you most about this story idea; you can write dialogue for an important scene, to see how it could play out; you can write entire paragraphs describing everything from people to locations.

The Story Discovery Phase of writing a story really requires you to dive in and figure out what story wants to be told, who these characters are, and what their story really is.  All of which are absolutely things you need to know if you want the draft to work as well as it possibly can.

It’s likely that by the time you enter the Planning Phase of your story, you won’t even recognize your initial idea seed. And that’s OK.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about how discovering what your story is really about is kind of like excavating the ground looking for fossils. He says:

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous; a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, a short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain the same.”

• Getting to Know Your Characters—Pantsing is a great way to get to know your cast of characters. And since you’re still in the Story Discovery Phase, you can go crazy writing your characters’ backstories; learning more about who they are and what they want; and digging deep into what their motives are in this story.

• Having A Writing Adventure—writing a novel is an adventure in itself, but Pantsing is truly an adventure, because you have no idea where you’re going. You’re just sitting down and typing whatever comes to your mind. The direction of your story is not yet defined, and anything is possible. This can be a lot of fun, if you let it.

The problem, however, is that too many writers don’t realize Pantsing is just a PHASE in the process of writing a story—but it’s not the only phase.

You really can’t just Pants your novel and expect it to work. That will, in nearly every case, never happen.

The only thing that works is having a plan, knowing your structure, and being able to clearly articulate a beginning, middle and end.

In that context, a “pantsed” story that succeeds in identifying a powerful core story is a plan, the goal having been arrived at using means other than outlining or using yellow sticky notes.

A Balance of Both

Like I said, Pantsing does have its place in the draft-writing process. But it’s only the first phase in the process, if you choose to not begin the story via an outline.

If you want to write a novel that you can publish, you have to push yourself to move past the Pantsing Phase (aka: the Story Development Phase) and into the next two phases: Planning Phase and Doing the Writing Phase.  At that point there is no difference whatsoever between what the pantser is doing and the planner is doing, because when you reach those second and third phases the “core story” has been identified, using either process.

(You can learn more about the 3 Phases of Writing A First Draft here.)

You’ve gotta have a balance of Pantsing and Planning (and Doing the Writing), if you want to end up with a novel that’s worth putting out into the world.

The reason I often spend more time in the Planning Phase than I do in the Story Development or Doing the Writing Phases is because I have no desire to write more than one draft before finding what my story is about. I’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work for me. If I have to write more than one full-draft, I usually scrap the story.

But when I plan everything out ahead of time, and then write the draft, I have a lot of stuff I can actually use when I’m finished. And that allows me to avoid a full-draft rewrite.

Writing a novel that works isn’t science; there’s no specific success formula you can use or replicate. But there are principles in play, and a three-step process that will help you turn out a truly badass first draft.

How does Pantsing play a part in your story-writing process?

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author and writing coach who helps emerging novelists take their stories from idea to draft, without fear, distractions or disorganization. Her Idea to Draft Story Intensive—where she helps you take your story idea and turn it into a completed first draft—is enrolling right now.


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