Adapting Public Domain works – a great article online

As I’ve been struggling (a LOT) to keep up with my NaNoWriMo 2015 challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, I’ve been wondering how much better it might be to adapt a public domain work instead of creating everything from scratch.  OK – I admit it, I like the easy way.  But is adapting a public domain work really easy?

Logan Andrew wrote a great article about how author Alex Flinn is gaining notoriety for adapting public domain fairy tales into best selling books.  The example Logan uses in his article is the book “Beastly”, a modern re-telling of the “Beauty and the Beast” French fairy tale.  It’s cool to see how Logan breaks down the elements of the classic story and identifies them in the modern adaptation.

What is “Public Domain” material, you might ask?  Public Domain works have fallen out of copyright protection, mainly due to age, but in some cases because the author or owner of the work failed to renew the copyright.  In many countries, a work is protected by copyright laws until 70 years after the author’s death.

In the US, there are multiple levels of the law, but in general:

  • Works published prior to Jan 1, 1923 are in the public domain.
  • Works published between Jan 1, 1923 and Jan 1, 1964 “may” be in the public domain, if the owner failed to renew copyright 28 years after the work was published.
  • Works published since 1923 may also be protected for 95 years after publication, meaning they may not become public domain works until the year 2019.


Yes, it’s complicated.  But there is a ton of material out there published before 1923.  Wonder how author Seth Grahame-Smith was able to pen “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”?  Yup – Jane Austen’s work is all in the public domain.  So is the work of Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, even much of Frank L. Baum’s work, including the book “The Wizard of Oz”  (yes – that’s how they got to write “Wicked”).

I know it’s not a cake walk to take a public domain novel written 100 years or more ago, and transform it into something modern day readers will enjoy.  Those who do it well really rock the story telling.  Those who don’t, well, don’t.  But I’m tempted to lift some description or even some stilted dialogue out of an old romance novel, just to help me out.

I know – that would be cheating for NaNoWriMo.  But maybe for my re-write….