Pastiche vs. Fanfiction

The debate that wouldn’t die.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece laying out my viewpoint that pastiche is anything Sherlock Holmes-themed that is faithful to Doyle’s characters. Since then, my opinion has evolved and changed. I’m going to re-articulate it.

Just today, I hear of Sherlock published this piece, which does a great job of explaining the viewpoint that pastiche should be a word reserved only for works that directly imitate Doyle’s storytelling style. (By that definition, as a reader and book reviewer, I personally prefer Holmes-themed works that are not pastiche about a million times more than most of those that are, but that’s a topic for another time.)

I don’t have a massive quarrel with IHOSE’s definition–technically. The problem is, words are not used in a vacuum, especially not in fandom. Somebody has to decide which works are “enough like Doyle” or “trying hard enough to be like Doyle” or “traditional enough” to warrant the word. Works that “fail” someone’s subjective test are, all-too-often, relegated to second-class status: In other words, fanfiction. This is the ugly little secret, and I’ve been seeing it happen ever since I entered the Sherlock Holmes world as an adult.

Let’s make one thing crystal clear. All pastiche is fanfiction. Breathe into a paper bag and repeat: All pastiche is fanfiction. Anything written by a fan of something, inspired by that something, is, by definition, fanfiction. There is nothing inherently negative, suggestive of low quality, or second class about fanfiction. It’s been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Fanfiction is a perfectly good word, and pastiche, however you choose to define it, is a perfectly good word. The problem is, human beings have a nasty habit of taking perfectly good words and giving them very problematic contexts, contexts meant to exclude and shame others.

This is what I’ve seen happen over and over with the pastiche vs. fanfiction issue. (To be clear, I am not saying everyone who espouses the use of the word “pastiche” is prejudiced or intolerant. Many are lovely. However, the culture of exclusion around the term is one I’ve observed repeatedly for years.)

Fandom context means that pastiche, as much as we’d like it to be, isn’t just a technical term for a type of fanfiction. All too often, it’s an in-word, a word used to describe what some consider to be the only “right” way to express creativity in the Sherlock Holmes world. Sure, there’s a catchall category for what those “other people” (often times young people, people of different gender, millennials, people of the Internet generation) create, but it’s not high and mighty pastiche. That word is only for the works of correct people, who write what they’re supposed to write.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. If I had my druthers, we’d call it all fanfiction and stop acting like “fan” and “fandom” are only words that apply to new enthusiasts, instead of being really broad words that have open arms to welcome all who are enthusiastic about something, regardless of age or duration of interest or any other factor.

Some of us write fanfiction that is published and sold. Others of us write fanfiction that we kindly share with the world free of charge. Still others write fanfiction that is only for our own eyes and enjoyment. It’s all creative. It’s all part of the Holmesian experience, and none of it deserves to be categorically excluded. (Of course we all have opinions about what we prefer or what is better and worse, but that has to do with personal taste and preference, not excluding entire categories of creativity because they don’t fit our mold.)

I know it’s not going to happen. Pastiche is not going to disappear as a word, and I’ll probably still use it in certain contexts, even though I wish fanfiction would suffice. But honestly? Please form your own opinion. This post is not intended to feed into the idea that there’s one right way to think about fandom concepts or a correct way to be creative.

If someone says to you, with that trademark disdain in their voice, “That’s not pastiche; that’s fanfiction,” smile at them and say, “Thank you. That’s an amazing compliment.” Because it is. Fanfiction is awesome, and when you create it, you’re awesome too.

How to purchase my novels of Sherlock Holmes:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

4 thoughts on “Pastiche vs. Fanfiction

  1. The majority of Shakespeare’s plays would be called fanfiction today.

    Actually, Shakespeare probably wouldn’t be able to publish the majority of his plays today. They would be considered plagiarism, and thus illegal.

    I always wonder what great works we’re losing because of overzealous copyright laws. I mean, they serve an important purpose. And yet…

  2. It’s been an interesting debate to watch unfold. And we have to say, we’re with you. But if we had our druthers, everything would be called “pastiche” and people wouldn’t think that pastiche writing or reading applies only to long-time fans or fans raised in a certain era.

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