Tweet Fuel Your Writing about using public domain characters in your work. These are characters whose copyright has passed into the public domain, and are moreorless "up for grabs". Think of the novels of Jasper Fforde, or the retold fairytales that Gregory Maguire made popular (and whose novel, Wicked, spawned a musical). We couldn't have those endless literary remixes without them (though the jury is still out on whether or not that's a bad thing).
I understand the reasons for using them (built in audience, pre-existing mythology) as much as I understand the reasons for not using them (risk of upsetting existing fans, difficult to use them without it seeming gimmicky). Heck, I've even enjoyed reading them - I love the novels of Jasper Fforde, and I grudgingly admire what Alan Moore did with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I've only written such a story once - my Deathmatch escapade, in which I pitted Dracula against Edward Cullen. I did it for a giggle, but I'd never want to write a full-length novel using someone else's characters.
I've got two reasons, really. First of all, I know these characters are all well outside of their copyright and their creators are long gone. As much as I imagine Mr Darcy, Vampyre had Jane Austen spinning in her grave, realistically speaking, the author can't get cross about what I've done as they're not around to complain. Having said that, I'd be really uncomfortable with the idea of someone inserting Grey O'Donnell, Liss Hunt, Fowlis Westerby, or any of my other characters into their work. I guess it's a little possessive but my characters are either facets of myself, or characters who choose to work with me. So I guess I don't use other people's characters because I wouldn't want people to use mine.
But secondly, I like inventing my own characters. I can enjoy reading the stories of Dorian Gray, Dr Jekyll and Elizabeth Bennett, but they're not my characters. I can get to know them but I'll never know them inside out the same way that their creators do. So no matter what I might have these characters do, they'll only be refractions of the originals, viewed through my own particular matrix of experiences, prejudices and beliefs. With my own characters, I have all the fun of getting to know them, and even if I don't like them, at least I understand them. Besides, inventing backstory is one of the most entertaining things a writer can do (even if most of what they create never makes it into the book)
What about you? Would you use public domain characters in your work?