Musing About Things: Retellings vs. Fanfiction

Musing About Things - Book MunchiesHi guys, welcome to Book Munchies’ Musing about Things: A Discussion (Post). Inspired by memes such as Should Be Reading‘s Musing Monday & Caffeinated Book Reviewer‘s Caffeinated Confessions (etc.), this is a Book Munchies discussion post, where I’ll be rambling about (mostly) book-related things and hopefully you guys will join in on the fun too! This week it’s Kim taking over for Cyn. 😉


“There’s no such thing as a new idea.” I’ve heard so many people say this, which is a bit discouraging as someone who loves to read and works in publishing. However, it wasn’t until I went searching that I found a Mark Twain quote that this came from:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment I think. Now, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it but I love to read fanfiction. I know now that fanfics is becoming more of a widespread and accepted part of fandom. Sometimes I just love those favorite characters from a TV show or book so much, I can’t let them go. So I find solace in fanfics when I can re-watch or re-read no more.

What makes fanfiction fanfiction?

As Twain said, there is no new idea. All characters might be able to trace it’s origin or start to a different character. With fanfiction, it’s obvious where the characters or story come from. It’s inherently going to be obvious to the reader, because that’s why they’re reading it.

Fanfiction have a bad stigma to them sometimes, depending on what crowd you’re querying. Some people think it isn’t a legitimate mode of creating because it’s plagiarism or someone else’s intellectual property, whereas there are others (like myself) who love it. One of the issues with fanfiction is that there’s just so much crap to wade through before you’re able to find that one good fic. In my experience, it’s something like 1:50 or 1:100 ratio of good fic to bad. (It’s also fandom/pairing dependent. Good writers all seem to flock to the same ones.)

It’s those good fanfics that make me question this stigma. They have taken these base characters and stories and turned it into something amazing, worthy of publication. If only it wasn’t already someone else’s property, right?

Spongebob HmmRetellings: they’re fun!

It’s such a large part of the YA book world now to see at least one retelling on a TBR or in a bookstore. Epic Reads even put out this “Epic chart of 162 Young Adult retellings”. That’s a 162 books published that base their stories and the characters on a different work of literature.

What is a retelling? These are books that exist because of another, older piece of work. The ones on that chart have four major categories these retellings are based on: mythology, fairy tales, Shakespeare, and classics. Within each category, there are multiple subcategories. And within each subcategory, there are multiple books. Each one of these books takes their base characters and stories directly from another work, and, like fanfiction, it’s obvious where it comes from.

So why is it that retellings are a “yay” in popular culture but fanfics are a “nay”?

Here comes Fifty Shades of … Wait, what?!

Minion WhaaatI’m not sure there’s anyone who doesn’t know what Fifty Shades of Grey is. If you don’t, you’re either illiterate (and therefore can’t be reading my blog) or live under a rock. When Fifty Shades of Grey first hit mainstream media, flooding the airwaves and bestseller lists, it didn’t come easily. Sure there were plenty of people flocking into the bookstores for a copy of their own (as a bookseller, it was a little frightening how popular it was), but there were also plenty of people out there disparaging it.

One of the biggest scandals that surfaced for this book was that it was originally written as a Twilight fanfic. Le gasp! Developed as an AU (Alternate Universe) fanfic, the story plucked the characters out of their original stories and put them in a whole new one and different situations. What stayed the same were the core characterizations (or so you’d hope). Then as E.L. James noticed the popularity of her series, she decided to edit the story a little bit and substitute all the names with different ones to separate itself from the fandom. And it was a hit.


The big question I’m focused on is how do you (the public) define fanfiction and what makes something a retelling? And is a fanfic still a fanfic if you change the names, settings, etc.? There are some people who don’t mind the idea of reworking fanfiction for original fiction. There is an ethical question in all of this. What makes it okay to rework someone else’s characters and stories? Wait till copyright is up? Do it for fun as fanfiction? Don’t do it at all?

As someone who loves fanfics, I want to know: is there a right or wrong way to approach fanfics vs retellings vs books like FSoG?

Author: Kim

Everything can be made better with a good book or some relaxing knits. 😀 Find me on IG @kimberlyh12 or on Twitter @enervated.

11 Replies to “Musing About Things: Retellings vs. Fanfiction”

  1. Retellings keep the same basic premise, but put their own spin on characters and events. They reinvent a lot of things and pretty much change everything except for a few basic ideas.
    Fanfiction tends to keep the world and characters the same and instead focuses on exploring / changing the character dynamics and relationships. The world itself and the people in it don’t tend to differ drastically and there’s no real ‘originality’. At least, that’s how I differentiate between them.

    Fanfiction for me is something that focuses more on drama between characters & wish-fulfilment, whereas retellings are an all-around change and really focus on plot.

    Both have their place though 🙂

    1. That’s a really good way to look at it! Like how most fanfics tend to be poorly written, you’re right that they focus a lot on “exploring/changing character dynamics and relationships”.

      However, I’ve also read a few fanfics that follow your outline for a retelling. Granted, the well written ones tend to be few and hard to find in the growing sea of fanfics, but the exist. Just like how some retellings could so easily be seen as fanfiction depending on the context. The book that comes to mind is Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. That book falls well within your idea of fanfics more so than retelling for me.

      I agree, though. Both have their place. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I have read a lot of fanfic in my day, and I love it. I am fine with Fifty Shades of Grey getting published, because the story isn’t Twilight. At the same time, I am not a huge fan of authors writing new Sherlock Holmes mysteries. If Holmes is a background character in a book or is doing a completely new thing with him, I am mildly okay with it. If an author is just writing a new Holmes book within the Doyle universe, I just get frustrated and avoid the book altogether.

    1. Okay. I get where you’re coming from with Fifty Shades of Grey.
      That’s a bit of a different view on it. Most people I come across in BN are all “Woo hoo! New Sherlock Holmes!”

      Thank you for stopping by!

  3. I haven’t read fan fiction for quite awhile but my son reads it all the time. I think it has a place and it is great training for people who love to write. I know several published authors who started in fan fiction and I also know author who will sue if you try to write in their universe. My feeling. If someone loves your books and wants to try to write in you universe as long as it is not for money let them. Here is my Post: Mixed Book Bag

    1. I think that’s a lovely way of thinking about it. I guess you have to be careful if the author is opposed to fanfiction, but I’m with you. It’s rather flattering to think someone could like your story enough to want the world to never end, and so long as it’s not for profit and for fun it doesn’t hurt anyone.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I really don’t understand what Fan Fiction is. Maybe, I read it, I don’t really know. I know I’ve read a few books that followed some of Jane Austen’s writing, but I don’t really think that is what you are talking about. So I guess I don’t read ‘Fan Fiction’.

    1. That’s perfectly alright if you haven’t. 🙂 Fanfiction may have a larger part in fandom than it did 5 years ago, but it’s by no means something mainstream that’s for everyone.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I’ve actually never read fanfiction before. Well, I’ve read 50 Shades of Grey, but I’ve never read legit fanfiction that wasn’t then published into its own book. I don’t know…I guess it just doesn’t really interest me. But I can totally understand why other people would like it.

    I think that whole fanfiction vs. retellings thing is an interesting discussion, and not one that I’ve seen mentioned around the blogosphere before. I’m not a huge fan of having fanfiction published. I don’t know…it just kind of reeks of plagiarism. I know it it really ISN’T plagiarism, but some part of me just has a hard time accepting it as its own work. It feels…wrong…somehow. But that’s just my opinion.

    I think that retellings are really cool, though! I think I’ve only read one, but I’m definitely interested in reading more of the genre. I have a few that I’m excited about getting into — mainly Cinder and Tiger Lily.

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  7. This was such a great bit to read! Recently I’ve been finding it harder and harder to distinguish between fan-fiction and retellings, literally a day ago I got in a pretty hilariously dramatic discussion with a friend of mine in a Tim Hortons over this very same matter. It all started when I went out to lunch with my friend, both of us writers on Wattpad and both of us believing we were right. I was talking about a new project of mine which I had been calling an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “Retelling”, but through her chai latte my Harry Potter and The 100 fanfic writing friend paused and said, “You mean fan-fiction.” This sparked a full on war between the pair us as we demolished a box of doughnuts. I do not know why but I was adamant in denying that I had written a fanfiction. Maybe because of how I hate that so many poorly written Harry Styles fanfictions get millions of reads on Wattpad? Either way I had been calling my novel a retelling because of how much work I’d put into changing the characters, creating a whole new world and changing the plot and the overall setting from the Carroll version of Wonderland to my noir and gang-riddled city that I chose to call Wonderland. I hit a point where I couldn’t even remember the difference anymore. Thanks to this article I think I can win my argument now 😛 Then again… Fanfiction writers get scary when they’re mad so maybe this will just be a silent victory… Thanks for this awesome comparison! Great fun to read ^_^

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