Three Thoughts About Making Spiritual Successors

2015 Artwork Spiritual successors article sketch

One of the annoying things about great stories, comics etc… is that there often isn’t quite enough of them. With great things, quality often comes at the expense of quality. So, what can fans of these great stories and comics do?

Well, if you’re a writer and/or an artist, one of the things that you can always do is to create a spiritual successor to these great stories and/or comics.

If you’ve never heard of a “spiritual successor” before, it refers to an original work that evokes something else without being a direct copy of it or a direct sequel to it. Technically speaking, it’s a type of fan fiction – but it’s vastly different from what usually passes for “fan fiction” on the internet.

A good computer game-based example of a spiritual successor that I heard of quite a while back is a thoroughly creepy-looking horror game called “Allison Road” which was shown off on Youtube this summer – you can see the preview footage of it here [WARNING- Contains gory/disturbing scenes]. This game has been widely considered to be a spiritual successor to the famous cancelled Silent Hill “P.T” horror game.

From the footage I’ve seen, both games use a first-person perspective and are set within very realistic haunted houses. However, “P.T” is set in America and “Allison Road” is set in Britain. Both games have different backstories and different unnamed protagonists. Both games are set in different houses that are haunted by different ghosts. And, yet, the footage of “Allison Road” is still fairly reminiscent of “P.T”. It’s a spiritual successor.

So, how do you make a spiritual successor to something? Here are a few basic thoughts about the subject.

1) Copyright: It’s important to have a good understanding of all relevant copyright laws before you make a spiritual successor to something. Although I have a basic understanding of copyright law, I’m not a legal expert – so, do your research here.

Although the details of copyright laws vary from country to country, one general principle in many copyright laws is that ideas themselves are not usually covered by copyright. However, the way that those ideas are expressed is covered by copyright.

What this means is that whilst a spiritual successor to something can contain the same ideas, themes, concepts, emotional tone etc… as something else, it can’t contain any of the same characters or other specific details like that.

For example, if the inspiration for your spiritual sequel uses an entirely fictional setting, then you can’t use that setting in your sequel. You can use the basic idea behind that setting (eg: a medieval fantasy world, a desert planet, an overcrowded futuristic city, an old haunted house etc..) but your setting needs look at least slightly different, it needs to be called something different and all of the small details need to be different.

The details of your spiritual successor can be slightly similar to the thing that inspired it, but they must also be distinctive enough to meet the legal standards for originality wherever you are publishing your spiritual successor.

2) Your Own Spin: After you’ve worked out what the underlying themes, ideas etc.. are of the thing that you want to make a spiritual successor to, you need to think of a way of giving these things your own personal “spin”.

In other words, you need to filter these things through your own imagination and create something new based on these themes and ideas that actually means something to you.

For example, you need to come up with new characters that make more sense to you, you need to come up with a setting that fits into your ideas of what a cool sci-fi/fantasy/thriller/horror etc… setting looks like, you need to use real settings that you’re actually familiar with (eg: if you like a series of American film noir movies, but you live in London – then set your spiritual sequel to these movies in London). etc… I’m sure you get the idea.

Even though your story or comic is heavily inspired by something else, it still needs to have it’s own distinctive “personality”. It still needs to be something more than just a slightly altered copy of the thing that inspired you.

3) Make it cooler:
This goes without saying, but the goal of every sequel (even a spiritual sequel) is to be better than the original. In other words, you need to think of a way to improve something that is so great that it inspired you to make a spiritual sequel to it. So, yes, making a good spiritual successor probably isn’t an easy thing to do.

Still, even if these improvements are fairly subtle things (eg: if someone wrote a spiritual sequel to “Fifty Shades Of Grey”, but with realistic characterisation) or if they’re merely a different perspective on the same themes, issues, concepts etc… that were present in the thing that inspired you, these improvements still need to be there.

So, try to make your spiritual sequel even cooler than the thing that inspired you.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂