I’m note sure you’re gonna find anything like a theory of fanfiction that could tell you easily what the term means and where it starts and ends. In my limited exposure, though, I’ve run across very little (read: no) fanfiction that would rise to the level of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
Would you agree with the following working definition: fanfiction is fiction set within a world created by a different author from the writer of the fanfiction, the latter usually not a professional writer; meant to continue, elaborate on, and hypothesize on the original author’s stories; generally self-published (often webbased); chiefly interested in the world created by the original author and a continuation thereof, rather than using that world for their own visions.
That’s off the top of my head, certainly, and could use some refinement. Stoppard’s work probably belongs on a continuum with fan-fiction, but I wouldn’t call it that, exactly. Between him and genuine fan-fiction lies stuff like Eoin Colfer’s recent Douglas Adams continuation; Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series; and other stuff. Stoppard’s play very obviously isn’t interested in the world that Shakespeare creates as a world in which to set a story: rather, that world and its narrative gaps are what make possible Stoppard’s exploration of his own (largely metafictional) concerns in a way that I don’t see fan-fiction deal with its texts.
I think it is. There’s no law saying that fanfiction can’t be brilliantly good.
My sister and I call those series novels (like the Start Trek and Star Wars novels you can pick up in the Sci Fi section of Barnes and Noble) fanfic novels. She’s always telling me that I should go into writing fanfic novels, as I do it anyway, and may as well get paid. Would you agree that those are basically fanfiction? They’re professionally published. So what’s the line?
The other difference is that they’re published with the approval of the holder of the original intellectual property (Paramount in the case of ST; Lucasfilm in the case of SW); while the events in those novels may or may not be considered “canon” for those universes (particularly in ST novels, as I understand it), one can assume that nothing happens in those novels which the IP holders don’t approve of. And, generally speaking, most of those novels are written by established (or, at least, previously published) sci-fi authors.
OTOH, a fair amount of true fan-fic (particularly slash fan-fic) contains events that the IP holders wouldn’t be happy with.
I don’t think you can really say that something is not part of a genre simply because it’s not crappy. That seems like a pretty weak argument to me. It is interesting, though, because it does go back to that old idea that has always haunted genre writers–the idea that if it’s good enough, or popular enough, it’s no longer genre fiction. If something is good enough, is it no longer fanfiction?
No, I don’t. And neither does the OP, presumably, or he wouldn’t be asking the question to start with. Do you believe that thisis not fanfiction? Because in the fanfiction world, they call that an alternative universe crossover fic. (And it won a Hugo! Well deserved, I thought.) We only call it a pastiche because Neil Gaiman wrote it. What other genres are defined based on how famous the person who did the writing is?
Furthermore, there are now a number of published writers who started out writing fanfic. One of them who is not very shy about it is Naomi Novik, who wrote a fairly well received fantasy series. Have her works of fanfiction belatedly become pastiche, or are they still fanfiction?
There’s a lot of fanfic out there, and 99% of it is crap. And yes, I’m including the fanfic that is professionally published–there’s some truely dire “pastiches” out there in the wide world. But, on the other, just a little tiny bit of it–both on and offline–is brilliant.
Quality is not a determinant of category. Yes, there is a lot of crap fanfic out there. There’s also an enormous amount of painfully bad poetry out there as well.
Fanfic exists because some authors create such vibrant real universes, others want to add to and enhance them. Some few succeed. Many don’t. The reason we see so many of the failures is because we have such a need to be in those worlds, we’ll give almost any attempt a try. Combine that with the populist media of newsletters, fanzines, and now the web, and it would be impossible to stifle that urge.
I don’t think fanfiction is really a genre, though. As I’ve heard the term used, the only constants among fanfiction are the use of someone else’s source material, and the web-published format. So, I’d be perfectly willing to define fanfiction as ‘an amateur form of pastiche, primarily published online’.
Note that this is not arguing based on quality - there’s a lot of REALLY crappy pastiche out there, and I’m certain there’s better fanfiction. But I think the ‘fan’ part really does imply not-a-colleague, and therefore not a professional writer.
Before the Internet it was published largely in fanzines, which were printed very cheaply (as in black and white photocopies on letter-size paper, folded in half and stapled) by and for fans.
The difference between fanfic and any other kind of fic is the “fan,” n’est-ce pas? In other words, it is written by a fan, to be read by fans, as part of the experience of fandom. Although some may be very well-written, it is generally of little interest to anyone who is not a fan of the source material. And that’s OK. I don’t think most people create fan fiction to become rich or famous. They create because they’re fans.
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” will certainly mean more to you if you are familiar with “Hamlet,” but you don’t have to be a fan of it. The majority of people who have seen the play or the movie adapted from it aren’t. How many people are truly Hamlet fans, anyway? Do you see people at Hamlet conventions, in Hamlet costumes, buying Hamlet trading cards? You might even appreciate R&G more if you don’t like “Hamlet” very much. The author, unlike fanfic writers, has made a great deal of money off his writing and enjoys a serious literary reputation largely based on this work.
None of this is to say fanfic is by nature better or worse than other fiction, but the reasons for its creation, publication, and enjoyment are different.
I wouldn’t call Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as fan fiction because it’s not an extension of Hamlet. In other words, fan fiction usually deals with "what would happen to the characters in the story if . . . "
R&G deals with metafiction – what is the relation between fiction and reality. There are also musings on free will vs. determinism and other concepts.
A R&G fan fiction would show their adventures either before they met Hamlet, or how they actually escaped being killed and lived on. But the play is not about extending the life of the characters but rather more philosophical points.
Yes, it’s fanfiction. It’s a story based on characters from someone else’s work. And somehow I doubt that Tom Stoppard the postmodernist would be offended at his work being classified as fanfiction.
It’s Hamlet seen from the POV of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as if they were the major characters. It even includes action and dialogue from Hamlet. That’s totally ‘what would happen if …’ and an extension of Hamlet.
By that standard, “Hamlet” itself – and most of Shakespeare’s other plays – are fan fiction.
I don’t think rather or not Stoppard would be offended need enter into it.
There seems to be a certain amount of defensiveness from some parties, as if saying R&G isn’t fan fiction for any reason is tantamount to saying R&G is too good to be fan fiction, but it’s not. It’s just a recognition that fanfic has certain characteristics that distinguish it from other types of fiction. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a very useful term.
Yup, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and so on do kinda count as fanfiction, though Hamlet not so much since it doesn’t have much in common with the source material.
If you’re counting ‘designed to be consumed mainly by people who are fans of the work’ as a criterion for fanfiction, then R&GAD still counts.
And yes, there are fans of Hamlet, and fans of Shakespeare in general - millions of them! It’s just because it’s Shakespeare we don’t think of applying the word ‘fan’ to someone who has seen (or read) most of the plays, or goes to the Globe (now that building’s good evidence of Shakespeare fandom) or Stratford-Upon-Avon (which is basically a Shakespeare theme park in the Summer), or buys a Shakespeare tea-towel or celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday, and trust me, lots of people do those things. Google the word ‘Bardbiz’ for too many sites for me to link to in one post. Among those fans, Hamlet is one of the most popular plays of all.