Weekly Forum 2015: #23

Remarks in the recent book review offered by Larry Feldman brought me to pondering a topic that is often under debate…

In your personal opinion, is there a difference between “pastiche” and “fan fiction”?
If not, then why?
If so, then what differentiates them?

11 Replies to “Weekly Forum 2015: #23”

  1. My primary criterion for identifying a pastiche is whether it is available in exchange for money, as opposed to fanfiction which is available for free. Pastiche, in my opinion, is published fanfiction.

    My other qualifier for pastiche is style. Lots of Sherlock Holmes fanfic emulates the style of Conan Doyle’s Watson narration, but because it exists for free it’s not pastiche. Likewise, many published works are available in exchange for money, but don’t always attempt the narrative style. For example, I’d call Kim Newman’s “The Hound of The D’Urbervilles” fanfiction because it’s of the latter category: a published book you pay to read, but without Watson’s voice.

    That second one is less rigid than the first for me because there are lots of Holmes-related published works that would be called pastiche by the wider community that don’t necessarily adhere to my definition. But the exchange of money is, I think, what makes the most difference between the two categories.

  2. Misty makes some good points, but I look at it from a different angle. I’d differentiate the two sorts of writing as follows: “Pastiche” either emulates or, occasionally, makes fun of Watson’s writings; fan fiction takes characters or situations (usually not both at the same time) and does a riff on them. A truly good pastiche might be taken for Watson’s work; fan fiction, however well conceived and written, never would.

    Both pastiche and fan fiction may, or may not, be sold for money. Many Sherlockian pastiches, albeit usually short, have been printed for free in society publications, but they are pastiches none the less. Making Holmes an idiot and Watson a genius or turning them both into criminals is likely fan fiction, even if it’s a book that sells many copies. “Fifty Shades of Grey London Smoke” with Holmes and Watson as the leading characters would be fan fiction now matter how many movies were made from it.

    Perhaps we need with each sort of writing to specify whether it’s paid or unpaid. That’s going to be a tough call, though, in an era when “published” books are given away for free via the internet.

    Like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous decision about obscenity, when it comes to pastiche or fan fiction, I know it when I see it.

  3. Misty makes an interesting point re: the financial implication of publishing ones work. And I am of a like mind in that pastiche is a subset of fanfiction.

    Until Misty made her well reasoned post, I am of a like mind with Roxie that the defining feature of pastiche is to emulate the style of Watson, either in eamest or as satire, while fanfiction was defined by its willingness to take the characters out of time or place.

    Things to ponder in light of these new observations…

  4. I agree with Flash! Roxie and Misty both make valid and fascinating points. Up until now, I’ve thought of pastiche and fan fiction in rather interchangeable terms. Older or published works often were called pastiche and newer or non-published works were labeled fan fiction, but despite noticing that previously, I had seen them as just about the same terms until now.

    However, now I can see how “The Hound D’Ubervilles” by Kim Newman could be called fan fiction for drawing on the setting and characters but approaching it in a non-canonical way, as opposed to Lindsay Faye’s “Dust and Shadow” being categorized as pastiche for a Ripper investigation done in a canonical fashion. Although both are published (and entertaining) the feel of them is very different.

    I wonder what certain media adaptions would be considered under pastiche and fan fiction criteria. Is the BBC Sherlock series a fan fiction tv series? Is Mr Holmes a pastiche movie?

    1. I usually don’t get involved with the discussions, but I find in this topic a chance to become educated.

      I always considered a Sherlockian Pastiche as a story about Holmes and/or Watson that was not in the Canon. Period! A parody would be a subset of a pastiche. Granted, I am not into the internet fandom that has brought many new followers to Holmes, but I have no idea what you mean by ‘fan fiction.’
      Is there an generally accepted definition of the term? Would ‘fan fiction’ meet the general definition of ‘Pastiche’ that I proposed?

      Educate me.


      1. In my mind, all pastiche is fanfiction, in that it’s written by fans as an homage to or somehow transformative working of the canon, but not all fanfiction is pastiche because it’s free or stylistically different.

  5. I’ve just reached the part of Zach Dundas’ The Great Detective where he talks about fanfiction, and he interviewed our own Misty! 🙂

    In general, I agree with Kirby that pastiche is a subset of fanfiction, and with Misty and Roxie that “pastiche” indicates a stylistic tie with the Conan Doyle Canonical stories, whether it’s imitation or parody. (Those ties can stretch pretty thin and still exist. I have a special interest in Sherlockian material for children, and I’d argue that the books featuring Hamster Holmes and his firefly pal, Dr Watt, are pastiche, but I suspect that’s a topic for a whole other post.) And I agree with Roxie that one *can* write and publish pastiche without getting paid for it.

    A friend of mine once said that fanfic writers write to “expunge the headcanon”, which is certainly true for me. I have not yet attempted to write any sort of mystery; I write little explorations of “what would happen to these characters if….”

    For me, the term “fanfiction” tells more about the writer than the writing. “Fanfiction” is written by and for fans of the source material. Whatever the writer does with the characters and/or their milieu, it comes from a deep affection for them. Fanfic writers write fanfic (in my not-so-humble opinion) because their is something about that world, those characters, those stories, that they cannot let go without playing in that sandbox for a while. This is probably why so much fanfiction is character-driven rather than plot-driven.

    Pastiche, on the other hand, while *often* written by folks who clearly adore the source material, may have a great plot, but lack that certain spark in the characters. This is not to say there is not pastiche out there that comes from a place of love for Holmes and Watson themselves – indeed, Dundas asked Lyndsay Faye “how the pastiche game, at its best, is played”, and she said, “You have to love the characters first.” (She went on to say, “Next you need to understand that John Watson is the most important character in those stories, period, full stop.” I love that answer.)

    Carla asked, “Is the BBC Sherlock series a fan fiction tv series? Is Mr Holmes a pastiche movie?”

    When you move from written work to audiovisual adaptations, there are other issues in play, I think. But I’ll once again offer my not-so-humble opinion: BBC Sherlock is fanfiction with an enormous budget. 🙂 I’ve talked before about the fact that it was Mark Gatiss’ sheer fanboy glee in an interview that convinced me I had to go read the original stories RIGHT NOW. It may fall into the subset of fanfic that is “pastiche”, given its strong Canonical influences, but that gets tangled up in the distinction between “pastiche” and “adaptation”. I haven’t read
    A Slight Trick of the Mind (I’m currently 3rd on the library holds list), but from all accounts, it sounds like pastiche, and a faithful film adaptation would probably also be pastiche.

  6. According to Merriam-Webster online:
    : something (such as a piece of writing, music, etc.) that imitates the style of someone or something else
    : a piece of writing, music, etc., that is made up of selections from different works
    : a mixture of different things

    Urban Dictionary’s second most popular definition:
    A piece of fiction within a fandom utilizing characters and situations from a pre-existing work including (but not limited to) books, television programs, films, and comic strips.

    Typically separated into het, slash, and general genres. Often used to play out AU scenarios and/or various romantic pairings not found in the original work.

    Distributed via mailing lists, blogs, and zines. Heavily archived online.

    _Kate writes fanfiction about what would’ve happened to Jack and Rose had the Titanic not sunk. Poor Kate._

    by nortylaK March 11, 2004

    While a Venn diagram of the two words would show a rather large area of overlap, they define two different things and in fact are not interchangeable terms. In the Sherlockian world “pastiche” has come to mean any story about Holmes and/or Watson (and even perhaps Canonical characters without Holmes and/or Watson present), Alistair Duncan on his Doyleockian website maintains that a “pastiche” should only refer to Merriam-Webster’s first definition and that any non-Doyle Sherlock Holmes story not written in the Watson style, such as “The Hound D’Ubervilles” by Kim Newman, be called “homage”.

    Fanfic can go farther afield than pastiche or homage. There are degrees of separation from the source material that both pastiche and fanfic can have, with fanfic, in general, having more degrees of separation than pastiche or homage. So, a story about Sherlock and John in love would not be a pastiche of the Canon, or even the “BBC Sherlock”, because 1) it is based on a TV show that is inspired on Doyle’s works 2) the characters of Sherlock and John are based on the portrayals of actor-in-their-roles and not the Canonical characters 3) further, the actors-as-charaters as written are not same as the TV version, as the story has them in love, unlike the source material (the TV show, which is already removed from the Doyle original) 4) the story only depicts a domestic scene and no mystery, which again removes it from the TV source and the already farther removed literary source.

    There are no value judgements here. “Pastiche” and “fanfic” are two different formats with different criteria to evaluate them, even if both contain a “Sherlock Holmes” and “John Watson”.

    1. P.S. It is good to hear from Larry Feldman again! I still miss his thread on the Sherlock Holmes Social Network.

      1. Let me add that “The Hound D’Ubervilles” by Kim Newman is not a good example of an “homage” as that novel is properly part of the Wold Newton Universe. From Wikipedia: “The Wold Newton family is a literary concept derived from a form of crossover fiction developed by the American science fiction writer Philip José Farmer. Farmer suggested in two fictional biographies (Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life) that the Wold Cottage meteorite, which fell near Wold Newton, Yorkshire, England, on December 13, 1795, was radioactive and caused genetic mutations in the occupants of a passing coach. Many of their descendants were thus endowed with extremely high intelligence and strength, as well as an exceptional capacity and drive to perform good or, as the case may be, evil deeds. The progeny of these travellers are purported to have been the real-life originals of fictionalised characters, both heroic and villainous, over the last few hundred years, such as Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Doc Savage, and Lord Peter Wimsey.

        “Other popular characters included by Farmer as members of the Wold Newton family are Solomon Kane; Captain Blood; The Scarlet Pimpernel; Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis Professor Moriarty; Phileas Fogg; The Time Traveller (main character of The Time Machine by H. G. Wells); Allan Quatermain; A. J. Raffles; Professor Challenger; Richard Hannay; Bulldog Drummond; the evil Fu Manchu and his adversary, Sir Denis Nayland Smith; G-8; The Shadow; Sam Spade; Doc Savage’s cousin Patricia Savage and one of his five assistants, Monk Mayfair; The Spider; Nero Wolfe; Mr. Moto; The Avenger; Philip Marlowe; James Bond; Lew Archer; Travis McGee; Monsieur Lecoq; and Arsène Lupin.”

        The Laurie R King Mary Russel series would be a better example of homage.

  7. To further muddy the waters, as well as excluding “The Hound D’Ubervilles” from the category of pastiche or even homage as it is clearly part of a different subset of literature than the “Sherlock Holmes pastiche”, we can take two tie-in novelizations of Sherlock Holmes TV shows and movies as an example. Titan Books has published a tie-in novel to “Elementary” called “The Ghost Line”. While we may say that it is a “pastiche” of the TV series, it is not pastiche of the Canon. It is based on characters created by Rob Doherty which in turn ware based on characters created by Doyle. Similarly, there was a tie-in novel written for the 1976 TV movie “Sherlock Holmes in New York” written in first-person Watson, that is to say in “pastiche style”, but it also is not a pastiche of the Canon but a novelization of a TV movie script based on characters created by Doyle. Of course, neither is a work of “fanfiction” although “Ghost Line” author Adam Christopher is a huge fan of “Elementary”.

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