What literary device is this?

I am writing a story, let’s call it Story A. I am incorporating plot elements and vocabulary from Story B.

Story B is “hard” science fiction and Story A is “soft.” Because I am trying to evoke the mood/ambience of Story B, I’m making the vocabulary in Story A more technical than it would otherwise be. So instead of a character “thinking” or “feeling” or “deciding,” he is “figuring” or “calculating.” He doesn’t “speed up” his step, he “accelerates.” His emotionally distant companion seems to be “light-years away.”

I’m not really lifting specific words/phrases from Story B, but I am deliberately selecting words that would be typical of Story B. I hope that makes sense.

I’m acknowledging Story B in my endnotes; otherwise, I doubt a reader would make the connection on his/her own. So calling it an homage seems like a stretch. I think I am making a literary allusion, but that seems very broad; is there a more specific term to describe what I am doing with the vocabulary?


That does work. Although, if I am understanding the definition, everything is intertextual.


I am not seeing any literary usages of the term. Although I can now say that I have experienced an episode of “Xanax-induced Palimpsest” (anterograde amnesia).

Copyright infringement?

Depends on what you are taking from the other author’s story, but using the characters, settings, and backstory of another author, even if you write your own story, is not allowed. Unless you have permission from the author. So if I write a Star Trek story, or a Star Wars one, without permission, I have infringed on their copyright.

Heck no. I did not say I was using characters, settings, and backstory of another author. I said I was using plot elements, and subtly enough that I don’t think anyone is even going to realize it unless I directly reference the other work. Plotwise, I’m taking an element that was literal in the original story (weight) and making it abstract (emotional weight, the theme of being a burden) in mine. And, as I said, using a vocabulary more common in the other genre than in mine. I don’t think there is copyright on the terminology of space travel.

ETA: maybe “theme” elements is more accurate to say here than “plot” elements?

Retelling” or “reimagining” are the terms I hear most often, but I think they’re more marketing terms than true literary terms.

There’s an underlying text. A palimpsest.

Just for clarity, is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead the sort of thing you mean?

No, but in some cases there could be a trademark. For instance, LucasFilm owns the trademark for “droid” on a wide range of applications. So you have to be a little careful.

Ok, I see I didn’t explain myself well, which is proof that I need more practice writing.

[li]Story A is fanfic. My reply to t-bonham@scc.net was to clarify that I am not infringing on Story B. Story A, if it goes anywhere, will be posted on a fanfiction site with the disclaimers common to fanfiction.[/li]
[li]So far, “Intertextuality” does seem like the most fitting word. I wasn’t initially sure about “palimpsest,” as that seems to have a very literal meaning; I am not erasing the original work, even figuratively. But, digging down, I see “palimpsest” used to describe a form of intertextuality in which the source text is the hypotext and the work that references it is the hypertext.[/li]
[li]WhyNot, if I pushed harder, I could make it a retelling, with an alternate ending, but that’s not where I’m going.[/li]
[li]Not a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead scenario.[/li]
[li]Motifs, that’s what I’m drawing from Story B. Motifs.[/li]
[li]Seriously, what I’m doing will be nearly invisible to the reader, it’s just a writing exercise for myself. I work in a semi-technical job and haven’t done creative writing since high school. Since I’m compelled to approach this by making lists and nailing down the literary terminology, I just might be doomed.[/li]
[li]Self-reporting for change of forum to Cafe Society.[/li][/ol]


General Questions Moderator

You’re employing a time-honored and well-used tool of almost every writer who ever lived. It’s one that I, in fact, have leveraged to create almost everything I’ve written.

It’s called “laziness.”

Well, I’m not sure if the 20+ hours I’ve put into the story is really laziness. As for borrowing elements - (whatever elements - plot, theme, etc) - from other stories - that’s kinda the issue I have with the term “intertextuality.” It fits, but it’s not possible to write something without referring to something else no matter what.

In my defense, since what I’m doing looks so derivative to y’all, I do think I’m first in my fandom to (almost) kill off my character by this particular method. I’ve spent two years bookmarking similar stories and two weeks building a categorized masterlist of them, so I’m pretty familiar with my teeny tiny niche. I’m trying to balance following the expected story conventions while adding some kind of twist.

I just can’t help my urge to find formal terms for things.

Also, copyright isn’t nearly as scary as this makes it sound.

There are established exceptions for fair use (particularly parody) and for educational purposes (which, given your apparent interest in the technicalities of this process seems much more likely to fly than with some other writers).

Check out the Purdue Copyright basics page hereand see how it all shakes out.

In addition, MOST (not all) authors are embracing creative commons licenses to allow a fair bit of fan-fiction to occur, where you as the fan-fic author acknowledge the main work as your base, and then swear that you’re not going to make any profit on *your *fan-fic, or bitch about it if other people make off with bits and pieces from your own work, because it technically ALSO belongs to the author of the base work.

This pageby the U of Minnesota Library has a nice (very basic) intro to the concept of creative commons.

I’m always shocked at the fear and trepidation that shows up around people writing derivative works or fanfics - if lawsuits were as common and copyright as unbendable as people make it seem, then we’d never end up with works as varied as Galaxy Quest and the Annotated Alice in Wonderland.

Besides that, if the work is written specifically for practice, and not for publication, you really don’t have to worry at all (you *would *have to keep it off the internet (unless you were using it as an example in an instructional setting).

Writing fanfiction specifically is a wonderful way to practice the craft. Lots of authors have recently copped to doing it, and a few of them STILL do it even as they write their real works. It’s obviously not causing them any legal problems, and it has let them write more, and in a targeted manner to achieve a stated goal, without having to do all the work of creating a concept from scratch. More focused writing practice = usually better craft.

I have several friends who are wanting to be “writers” or who have an idea or two, and are starting to write their whatevers, and I ask them what they’ve written before?


No, seriously - you’ve never read something and gone “God, that was awful, but the basic idea was good. If I took *this *bit out, and changed *this *around, and added some background… there! Much better!” - you’ve never done that?

“What? Re-write someone’s book? No, why would I do that?”

Um, because you can’t NOT write, and when you read something that could be good and wasn’t, it offends you to the bone?

“Oh. Nope, doesn’t happen.”

:dubious: Ok, what about if you read something really great, and wanted there to be more of it, so you wrote it yourself?

“What, like Fanfic?” (with great disgust in voice).

Sigh. Yes, like fanfiction. Think of it as an homage to a great author or a great setting/characters/tone/whatever you liked about the work. You’ve never been inspired to do that?

“No way, fanfics are crappy writing.”

:smack: Fine, go write your book. Good luck with it.

(tl:dr - I think you’ll be ok. :D)

Lasciel, thanks for elaborating on the legal aspects of fanfiction and fanfiction’s potential role in the practice of creative writing.

My fandom pertains to a TV show, and if the producers were going after someone, they might have already addressed the 85,000+ fanfiction stories for it that are already out there. (That isn’t hyperbole. And it isn’t even close to the biggest fandom - fanfiction.net houses over 632,000 Harry Potter stories.)

Like I said upthread, I haven’t done creative writing in a long time. I do have a history of interpreting pop culture through a formal lens. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I got away with writing a paper for Latin class laying out arguments to support my theory that Etruscans were the descendants of Vulcans (probably from before the split with the Romulans). That success inspired me to write my college entrance essay comparing my experiences as a biracial person with the challenges faced by half-human/half-alien Mr. Spock.

So now I’m writing derivative fiction based on a TV show. Some of the show’s themes are family, loss, sacrifice, betrayal, duty, revenge. I can’t help but notice that these ideas have already been covered in classical literature. So, yeah, I want to play with that.

A trip to Wikipedia suggests there’s a word for nearly everything. I’m just looking for one to describe what I’m doing. Maybe I’ll have to coin one.

I think the word you’re looking for is pastiche. Usually a pastiche is a more direct, literal imitation of a previous work, but I think it could apply aptly to what you’re doing. I think homage is also appropriate.

“[Done] in the style of,” although a multi-word phrase, is probably the most cromulent expression. If you said you were writing a lighthearted fantasy in the style of a hardboiled detective novel, I think I’d know what you meant. Similarly, if you said you were writing a “Sex and the City” episode that was done in the style of (or “as a pastiche of”) a Star Trek episode. As a matter of fact, I think I could write such a thing myself, and I’ve never seen an episode of “Sex and the City.” It just writes itself, really!

What would y’all call it when a writer does a story in an anthology written in the editors (or one author’s) world? I’m talking published stuff, like Thieves’ World, or Lackey’s Valdemar Anthologies, not unpublished fanfic.

For that matter, what distinguishes Thieves’ World from fanfic? A contract?

No idea. I hope someone can shed some light. The original Thieves’ World authors were invited to participate, I know that much. My guess is that it all comes down to money. If I want to make money, then I have to have some sort of contract with whoever governs the work. I assume that also would bind the writer to obey the rules of the given universe more than is required in fanfiction.

It wouldn’t even have to be in an anthology. Think of the Star Trek novels. There must be some rules about how far they can stray from canon. An author can’t just decide the Enterprise runs on a giant combustion engine rather than warp drive.

Interestingly, there does not seem to be any Thieves’ World fanfic on fanfiction.net. There is Mr. Ed fanfic. (at least it isn’t slash)