Pastiche vs. Fanfiction

Can you believe that I am 35 years old, have a BA in English, and had never heard the word ‘pastiche’ until a month ago?!? Fanfic, on the other hand…I’ve been a lover of fanfic since I discovered it at age 12 (when we finally got a computer, lol) and stumbled across my first fanfic online (Questies represent!).

From what I can tell, Pastiche vs Fanfiction is a matter of “a penny is a coin, but a coin isn’t necessarily a penny”. A pastiche IS fanfiction, but of a certain type: it must attempt to mimic the writing style and flair of the original works (it’s also usually published, but that’s more of a class difference rather than a writing difference, so I’m discounting it).

For example: Lyndsay Faye, a well-known Sherlock Homes pastiche writer, has put out several books, including her debut Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson. This book follows not only the tone of the originals, but the style, presenting itself as an original work by Dr. Watson and mimicking the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Whereas: Many of my favorite Sherlock Holmes fanfictions are based more on the television shows/movies rather than the original stories (and let’s not even attempt to figure out if a fanfic based on a tv show based on a book still counts as a pastiche!). The stories tend to present with a viewer’s POV, which can include snippets from the criminals/victims lives that the boys would have no way of knowing about. Almost none of them follow the original style, with Dr. Watson narrating the events, or are even set in the appropriate time frame. Many of them don’t even feature cases, but are more “slice of life” stories.

None of this is to say that one is necessarily “better” than the other. I love both types of work equally. It’s true that most published pastiches will have a higher quality of writing, but that’s true of any “published” vs “non-published” work and I have always been willing to admit that I’ve read some fanfiction that was better than the books they were based on (including Harry Potter, which is huge coming from me). The value is in the story; if it is a good story then it is a worthy story, regardless of it’s origins.

Pastiches For You to Try

Sherlock Holmes: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes (Loren D. Estleman)

Hardy Boys: The House on the Point: A Tribute to Franklin W. Dixon & The Hardy Boys (Benjamin Hoff)

Gone with the Wind: Scarlett (Alexandra Ripley)

Multiple Authors: The British Museum is Falling Down (David Lodge)

I’m sure I’m missing some nuances in defining the two; there seems to be a lot of debate over whether or not certain books would be considered a pastiche, an homage, or fanfiction. Honestly I think people sometimes make things TOO complicated, so this is my simple definition. Feel free to add your take on the debate in the comments. 🙂