If a writer made Darcy behave like Bingley, Elizabeth behave like Jane, Mrs. Bennet behave like Mrs. Gardiner, and Lydia simply behave, it wouldn’t really be a good variation of Pride & Prejudice. Jane Austen created well defined characters. Changing one or two characters is fair, but writers can’t credibly change too many characters without giving a background that explains the change.
Minor characters without clearly defined characteristics are a boon to writers of fan fiction. A favorite character, one often used by writers, is Colonel Fitzwilliam. Writers tend to use him because there is a shortage of eligible male characters in Pride and Prejudice. We know he is charming and a good friend of Darcy. He shows ethics by warning Elizabeth that he must marry someone with money. He is usually given more positive characteristics than Jane Austen gave him. That is not to say that he doesn’t deserve them. We just don’t know.
Not knowing is important. It gives a writer freedom. Consider Mrs. Younge. We know almost nothing about her. She was probably a widow. We don’t know her age or background. I’ve often wondered why she would trust Wickham to reward her properly for her help, since Wickham is intrinsically not trustable. Summer Hanford and I wrote about her in Mary Younge: A Pride and Prejudice Variation. We were free to do almost anything with her, and I am sure the results are not what Jane Austen had in mind.
My favorite character to use is Anne de Bourgh. While she seems like more of a main character than Mrs. Younge, we know very little about her. We don’t know her age. If she was the same age as Darcy, why would Lady Catherine have tolerated Darcy not marrying her for so long? He was at least twenty-seven when readers meet him. If she was considerably younger, it would make more sense. The statement Lady Catherine makes to Elizabeth, “While in their cradles, we planned the union,” could mean there was one conversation. But there could have been two conversations.
We don’t know about Anne’s health. We know she had been sickly, but there is never a hint of actual illness during Elizabeth’s stay in Kent. There is only concern shown for her health. This may be more a matter of a sickly childhood than anything current. She could be healthy, dying, or something in between. We don’t know Anne de Bourgh’s character. Is she smart? Does she have limited practical knowledge because she has little contact with anyone other than Lady Catherine and Mrs. Jenkinson? Does she read books and newspapers and thus is well informed? Does she drive her phaeton or is there a coachman? Is she drugged or stupid? Does she love her mother, loathe her or is she indifferent? We don’t know.
All this limited knowledge leads to one thing: She’s fair game for a writer. That is why Summer Hanford and I put her in so many books. We can do what we like with her without contradicting Pride and Prejudice.
There are other characters that one is free to do something with. Colonel Fitzwilliam either has a living older brother or a living nephew. We don’t know if his parents are alive, but they could be. Thus, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother is implied as having existed, meaning writers can do what they want with him. I had a lot of fun writing Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother in Courting Elizabeth: A Pride and Prejudice Variation. When I started writing him, I intended for him to die, but I liked him too much. I made a few changes and gave him an interesting ending.
There are other characters without much character. Colonel Forster and his wife Harriet have little information about them, although it says a lot about both that Colonel Forster married a woman who was good friends with Lydia.
There are the servants as well. Mrs. Jenkinson, Mrs. Reynolds, Mrs. Hill, and Mrs. Nicholls all have brief mentions. Mrs. Reynolds speaks a lot and we know a bit more about her. Mrs. Nicholls is described in one source as the housekeeper at Netherfield Park, but I think it just as likely that she is the cook since she was spoken of as going to the butchers and making white soup.
The list of minor characters is long, and other writers have noticed it. There is at least one book about Mr. Hurst and another about Mary King. Jane Austen says Mr. Hurst is “a man of more fashion than fortune,” and we have a few other bits of information about him. We know Mary King has freckles and fell in love with Wickham. That leaves plenty of room for an author’s imagination.
There is another way a writer can approach writing without changing a character in the original. That is to assume that the character is pretending to be something he isn’t. Summer Hanford and I did this with Mr. Collins’ Deception: A Pride and Prejudice Variation. In it, Mr. Collins was an intelligent man who had a good reason for pretending to be a fool. We are planning another book where Mr. Wickham’s behavior is all a pretense. Our tentative title is More Than He Seems: A Novel Reinventing Pride and Prejudice’s George Wickham and it probably won’t be published until next year.
What minor character would you like to see given an important role in a novel?
 For example, if Mrs. Bennet died giving birth to Lydia and Mr. Bennet remarried a sensible woman with a large dowry who both provided him with sons and made sure the five Bennet girls were well educated, the entire family might have different personalities. Mr. Bennet could be less cynical, Lydia and Kitty should be more sensible, and Elizabeth and Jane might be accomplished to a level Miss Bingley would approve of.
 Lady Catherine could have written to Lady Anne when Darcy was ten, “When your son was born, you said if I had a daughter, she should marry him. I just gave birth to a daughter that I’m naming after you. I think she should marry your son.”
 Colonel Fitzwilliam could even have an adult nephew. The Lucases have children at least twenty years apart, since Charlotte is twenty-seven and the Lucases had a seven-year-old son. It is not stretching things to imagine Colonel Fitzwilliam with a nephew that is Bingley’s age. Also, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s nephew could be the product of a second marriage, making a larger age gap probable.
 I’m not avoiding naming these books. I’ve simply forgotten.