The Art of Austen Variations
A guide for new authors
The fact that Jane Austen is a household name, more than 200 years later, says a lot about the enduring love readers have for her books.
So enduring, in fact, that a significant percentage of the Regency Romance sub-Genre comprises of the sub-sub-Genre of legal fanfiction: Austen Variations.
Austen Variations (sometimes called Vaguaries or Adaptations) come in all flavours, shapes and sizes. If you're interested in a particular kind of story, chances are someone has written it. There are modern day re-tellings; points of divergance; the novels from the viewpoint of different characters; changed circumstances; supernatural, sci-fi and fantasy re-imaginings; After Ever After continuations, and even spicier stories for the 18+ crowd.
With fanfiction becoming more mainstream, so are Variations of classic books that have entered the Public Domain, and they're becoming more and more popular. As such, with the acknowledgement that everyone will like or dislike different aspects of Jane Austen's work, and therefore their tastes in Variations will be equally diverse, I thought I'd put together a quick guide for anyone thinking of writing their own.
Please note, some of this advice will be generalizations. Most "Hard No's" can work in the hands of a sufficiently talented author who is willing to put the time, research and effort into making it work.
Read, A Lot
Different eras can vary wildly in their language, slang, and manner of speaking. Nothing breaks a reader's immersion like anachronistic words appearing where they shouldn't.
The best way to avoid that is to become as familiar as possible with the speech patterns and slang of the Regency Era. The best way to do that is by reading books written at the time. Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Ann Radcliffe... go wild.
Read until you don't need to look up what the words mean, and have a passing familiarity with the slang and colloquialisms. You don't have to have it perfectly right - that's part of what editors and beta-readers are for - but it's always good to have a knowledge of the basics.
Figure out your focus.
What do you want your story to be? Is it a continuation of one of Austen's novels or short stories? An alternate perspective (Charlotte Lucas, Mary Bennet and Mr Darcy are particularly popular in this sense)? Or a point of divergence*? A change of setting?
*"Point of Divergence" can mean that something changed in the past that led to different circumstances for a character, or that a certain event happened differently, leading to a ripple effect.
Whatever you want your story to be, pick a focus and stick to it. Nothing derails a story faster than trying to make it be several things at once. If you find yourself torn between two plots that don't work together, just write a second book! I promise you, no one will complain.
Also, take the time to map out what your focus means and how it affects the story.
What information will a character be missing, absent Jane Austen's omniscient perspective and limited to their own knowledge and encounters? How do you fill those gaps without making everything too convenient? What are they doing in the time that they were not present in the novel?
Jane Austen often set out what "Happily Ever After" looked like for her characters, either when wrapping up the story or in discussions with her family, but she was often light on detail. Kitty improved after staying with Jane and Elizabeth, and removal from Lydia's influence, but what does that improvement look like? Does her entire personality change, or does she merely become more sensible and less thoughtless? Do Emma and Mr Knightley remain at Hartfield until Mr Woodhouse dies and Isabella inherits, or do they eventually move to Donwall Abbey? Do they travel? What details and events are missing, and how will you fill them in?
If Mrs Bennet produced an all-important male heir, would she be as silly, or as anxious for her daughters to marry rich men? If Mr Darcy was a second son, would he have been as proud, or as willing to overlook Elizabeth's lack of a dowery and unfortunate connections? If Anne Elliot had married Captain Wentworth at nineteen, would he have risen as far, or taken as many risks, as he did, with the consideration of a young family to support? If Fanny Price had been more outspoken, or Catherine Norwood more questioning, what would be the consequences for them as characters, or to the greater story?
Google is your friend
While you shouldn't rely exclusively on Google for your research, it's invaluable as a starting point, such as "when were vaccines invented?" and "Distance from Bath to Brighton/London to Somerset/etc?" and "How much was a Militia/Navy Officer paid per year?"
Also, it's great for working out timelines and the major events that would have featured in Jane Austen's life and influenced her writing.
Keep at it.
This might be the most important point of all.
It doesn't actually matter if someone else has told a similar story before. Anyone who likes fanfiction can name a dozen stories with near-identical plots that still managed to be unique, and that they read over and over.
Something I've discovered as an Indie Author is that for everyone who scoffs at my work, no matter how wild or far-fetched the premise, there are more people who absolutely love it. It can be easy to feel stuck, or discouraged, or like you'll never finish your first draft. If you need to take a break from that particular story, do it. It will be there when you're ready to come back to it.
Natasja Rose is the author of two Austen Variations and twenty-nine non-Austen books of various genres, two of which are being adapted as scripts for a mini-series.
If you liked this story, leave a heart, a comment or a tip and share it around, and check out my other work on Medium and Amazon.
About the Creator
I've been writing since I learned how, but those have been lost and will never see daylight (I hope).
I'm an Indie Author, writing bits of everything I think of!
I live in Sydney, Australia
Helpful, targeted, encouraging writing advice. For anyone, not just those writing in Austen-World!
Congratulations on being featured as a top story, it is well deserved 👏🏼
I enjoyed the article! Nicely written and I loved your advice to keep going at the end :) Congratulations on Top Story!
Way to go! Well earned top story! Congrats! Lots of fab advice in there. 💛✨️💛
Very well sorted and good advise. Congratulations on Top Story!
Fabulous!!! Yeah!!! Congratulations too!!!💖💖💕
Congratulations on your Top Story
Inspiring and creative work. Well done!
Interesting... I am not the biggest Austen fan...but I do like the films, and I like the advice here. Still have to read my copy of "Pride and Prejudice...and Zombes" (fantastic film). And "Persuasion" is my favorite, too! 📚
Wow, thanks for sharing your knowledge and advice- very inspiring! 💕😊