Instag8r's picture
Instag8r from Residing in Parker, CO but originally from WV is reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy October 11, 2011 - 11:39am

Is it legal or ethical to reference a fictional character in your own work of fiction?

Just for instance ... let's say there is a young lawyer with the last name Finch. Would it be okay to say that he was inspired to become a lawyer because of his grandfather Atticus Finch?

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 11, 2011 - 11:56am

I've seen books that reference characters from other works before, but it's usually in a manner to help describe an experience.  If you're using an existing character within your story, that could borderline fan-fiction.  I'm not sure what the legal aspects of your question are but ethics are up to you.  I personally have no problem with it, but a name drop could be a bit odd without development. 

Achillez's picture
Achillez from Long Island, New York is reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway October 11, 2011 - 12:01pm

It seems fan-fictiony to me as well, like you're writing a non-canonical novel in a universe that's already been established.  

CJ Roberts's picture
CJ Roberts from Salem, MA is reading October 11, 2011 - 12:13pm

It HAS been done to a limited extent in the Adventures of Baron Munchaseum for instance. There are also numerous works that include an ancestry with Sherlock Holmes as well. On a different note you have the Imaginarium Geographica where the author tells a fantasy story about Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Charles WIlliams. Also all the Lovecraft derivatives wherein so and so is a descendant of some Lovecraftian personage like Ward or Randolf Carter.

A. Mason Carpenter's picture
A. Mason Carpenter from USA is reading The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell October 11, 2011 - 2:38pm

I think it just depends on how you do it.  Take the comic series, Leauge of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Nearly every character is yanked right out of some onld public domain novel.  It is an origional and entertaining story.  All the writers are dead, and so are their lawyers, see?  If you wrote Harry Potter's American cousin Earl having an erotic brunch with Sookie Stackhouse, you might be sued violently and thoroghly.

I talk about Clark Kent a little bit in my current work, one of my characters listens to old radio plays.  I poke fun at Superman, but his role in my book is the same as his role in real life, that of a fictional character.  I would feel a bit cheap and slutty if I stole someone's character outright.

simon morris's picture
simon morris from Originally, Philadelphia, PA; presently Miami Beach, FL is reading This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George October 18, 2011 - 3:47am

I see referencing the characters of other writers as a lack of originality. Many editors see it in the same framework. It is saying that you came up with the idea only after reading someone else's original work.  An exception to that rule is to reference a real person who has historical value. Thus, I can say, "When I came to Philadelphia with the dream of becoming a publisher, it may have been that the blood flowing through my Brahmin Bostonian veins was both a contribution of my distant cousin, many times removed, Ben Franklin, and a kind of Bostonian arrogance that guarantees results before testing one's abilities a la the Ted Williams Highway dig."

Fiction is a work of art and as such, should be sacrosanct. There may be no legal penalties for name dropping but there is the originality factor. Another exception is when a character has become common property like the invisible man, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula and Alice. Atticus Finch is the property of a very special writer, Harper Lee, whose story is known to be almost autobiographical. Her body of work is quite sparce: Mockingbird and a novelette. She featured as a secondary character a famous author as a child because he was her next door neighbor--Truman Capote.

I feel that it is appropriate to use fictional characters who are well known as analogies, similes or metaphors to make a point. That is educated writing. So, I believe I may legitimately say, "They set off down the river like Sam Clemens' Tom and Huck, though their adventures proved less frightening though just as important to their later lives." In this instance, I give a tip of the hat to the writer and allow the reader to use his skills to help define my characters' journey but do not step into his magic mirror to steal the luster of his writing to cover the deficiencies in my own.

Writing is not about getting published. Writing is about crafting something worthy of publication.

Dr. Gonzo's picture
Dr. Gonzo from Manchester, UK is reading Blood Meridian October 18, 2011 - 3:58am

I've got a halloween party in my novel and there's this guy dressed in a suit and a bloodied waterproof holding a plastic axe.  Don't know why I put it in--maybe just for shits and giggles--but I'll take it out when I come to edit that scene.  He's only background.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 18, 2011 - 4:48am

Go ahead and do it, but if you do, have a purpose, and make it more than just a trite gag.

Instag8r's picture
Instag8r from Residing in Parker, CO but originally from WV is reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy October 18, 2011 - 10:02am

Thanks for the imput, it's appreciated. It's something that I have to give a lot of serious thought. If I do decide to do it, it would be for a definite purpose and not a gag. However, if there is any way that I can get around it, I will.

EricMBacon's picture
EricMBacon from Vermont is reading The Autobiography of a Corpse November 30, 2011 - 5:56am

I wrote a short story for a college course where some of my favorite characters from the books we read that semester held an existentialist anonymous meeting inside Kafka's brain. I went into detail with character, using their voice, etc., but I think most cases a small reference is just an author's way of paying homage.