Fan Fiction, Pastiche, Homage, and Influence

This began as a reply to Charles Yallowitz’s “Fairy Tale Rewriting Vs Fan Fiction”, but then it grew out of control and rather than dump it on his page I thought I’d post it here.

The question of rights-holders matters a lot to publisher’s lawyers, but I don’t think it’s as important to writers.

There are a lot of ways in which a writer can use another writer’s work as the basis of her or his work. What I would call Pure Fan Fiction is at one end of a continuum–where the characters, settings, and major events are all taken from a particular source.

There are degrees of purity in the fan fiction community, and a bewildering code of abbreviations to distinguish between different alternative worlds. There are fan fics in which characters who have died in the “official” world are still alive. There are fan fics in which a character’s gender or species have been changed.

There are fan created characters who have been written into existing worlds and then become part of an alternative canon. (And there have been cases where the original author has taken over a fan created character and written it into the official world–more fun for publisher’s lawyers.)

Then there are Cross-overs. Fan fiction has been written combining characters from a popular television series with characters from a popular series of books. (What if Dexter Morgan had gone to Hogwarts? Wouldn’t that have made things much more interesting for Harry?)

The question of how much change from the original source material makes a work no longer fan fiction has been in the news lately, with Fifty Shades Of Grey being described as a Twilight fan fiction, only without the supernatural elements and the supporting characters and a different setting and huge amounts of money for the male lead, and different names for everybody. I haven’t read Fifty Shades, so I can’t really comment.

I have read Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series, however, and I don’t see any resemblance to Harry Potter at all, despite the claims that it began as a Harry Potter fan fiction. Claire has so altered the characters and the world that it never occurred to me that one could be inspired by the other.

Genres are largely influenced by a particular work. One could make the case that Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer was Phillip Marlowe fan fiction. As Charles points out, J R R Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings series has inspired the entire genre of Epic Fantasy.

I use a great many concepts developed by other writers in my own work.  (Fortunately, I draw on sources that almost nobody has read, so I’m not likely to be caught.  Unfortunately, I tend to admit that I borrow extensively, so that kind of negates it.)  The semi-human races I call Ambimorphs and Blue Metal Boys are lifted directly from William Burroughs’ Nova Express and the Necroidim from Cannibal Hearts are my own version of Clive Barker’s Cenobites.  The  characteristics of the Outsiders are heavily based on C S Lewis’s Eldila, and one of my characters uses that word to describe them.

Other influences are less direct.  Cannibal Hearts draws largely on the structure of Phillip Dick’s A Maze Of Death, but without any one-to-one correspondence, it is the pattern of escalation of events that I took from Dick’s work.

I draw on a lot of works published as non-fiction as well.  I am a big fan of fringe/psuedo-science, and that shows up in the cosmology of my works.  Charles Fort and Wilhelm Reich both heavily influenced the “how” of the Outsiders.  (The “accumulator” that shows up in Cannibal Hearts is a direct homage to Reich.)

I don’t think that any author can be entirely free of the influence of other authors–what we read becomes a part of the experience that we draw upon to create our own work.  The extent to which we are influenced by any one particular work is a matter of personal taste, however.  I, myself, probably couldn’t write fan fiction that would be acceptable to the established fan fiction community–I wouldn’t want to limit my options to those in only one existing world.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Fan Fiction, Pastiche, Homage, and Influence

  1. Great post. In regards to 50 Shades, it did begin as Twilight fan fiction titled ‘Masters of the Universe’ (He-Man is crying in his pink casket.) When James got a fan-following, she changed the names and enough about the story that it became free of a copyright lawsuit. I was told by an author years ago that it is a ‘new work’ if specific names and every third word is changed, but that sounds a little hokey.

  2. Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere and commented:
    Check out Misha’s excellent response to my post. Glad he made a great post like this instead of a comment on my blog because this is worth reading.

  3. Green Embers says:

    Yup, completely agree. It’s funny, I can see myself being influenced by the latest book I just read when I write something soon after reading it. I try not to write so soon after reading… okay that sounds weird but true, lol.

  4. tjtherien says:

    I agree that writers are influenced by the authors they have read, Do I myself borrow from authors I have read. Yes, I have borrowed writing devises and from styles of various writers. Hemingway’s punchy sentence structure, Kerouac’s stream of consciousness etc… but I have not deliberately lifted anything from the pages of a writer. I have dabbled a little in the retelling of some fairy-tales and fables changing perspective and twisting the moral, for example Three Billy Goats Gruff from the perspective of the Troll. I have also taken the parables (not poetry) of Khalil Gibran and put them to verse in my own words, but this I have done because of the message of Gibran’s work, I did not do this as a work of fan fiction although I guess it could be considered to be.

  5. sknicholls says:

    So many people did this with Anne Rice’s Vampire series. i could never get into other vampire books because Rice had such a way of writing and none could compare. i am not even a vampire fan, but I am a fan of Rice. I like her style, and her way of saying something very succinctly, yet colorfully.

  6. Ah, yes, the fanfic community is FULL of elitist assholes for sure >.<

    • MishaBurnett says:

      It’s tough to tell your tone from your comment, but I hope that you didn’t get that from what I said. I don’t know that many people who write fanfic, and I haven’t been active on any fanfic groups, but my personal experience has been with people who genuinely love a particular universe and want to share that.

      When I said that what I write wouldn’t be acceptable to the fanfic community, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought that they were elitist, simply that my style is too scattershot to really fit the genre.

      • Begging your pardon, I misread your intent, but FROM experience they indeed can be….

      • MishaBurnett says:

        Fair enough. I never really dug all that deeply into the fanfic community, clearly you have. I just wanted to make sure that I, personally, wasn’t saying that–I’m certainly not going to disagree with you when you know what you’re talking about and I don’t.

  7. Sue says:

    I recently learned of your blog from a comment you made on one of my friend’s posts. I find your blog unique and while I don’t always comment, I always read your posts. This post reminded me of Jasper Fforde’s books. Talk about cross over! I have used a friend’s characters in my short stories, but in an entirely different setting

  8. Papi Z says:

    Reblogged this on The Literary Syndicate and commented:
    Misha Burnett has a response to Charles topic and question in the previous re-blog. What do you think? I think the topic is fascinating, and one I never really thought of. Check it out friends!

  9. sstamm625 says:

    Great post, Misha! I would agree that we are all influenced by whatever we read and love–sometimes consciously so and sometimes not. I also find that I’ll read something after I’ve written a piece and find similarities. And the defensive little voice inside starts saying things like, “But I wrote that before I even read this, I swear!”

  10. Pingback: My Top 13 Posts Of 2013 | mishaburnett

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