In this post, we ask and answer the question: What is a pastiche and why should I write one?
Binge-reading your favourite author is great, until the author stops writing. Lucky for you, there is a remedy: read a pastiche! If you’re wondering what a pastiche is, and why every author should write one, this article will help you.
What Is A Pastiche & Why Should I Write One?
What Is A Pastiche?
The word ‘pastiche’ sounds French but it’s actually from the Italian ‘pasticcio’, meaning pie or pasty. It usually consists of many things mixed together, like a potpourri. A literary pastiche is a potpourri of an existing work of art with the narrative talent of a modern author.
This technique is used whenever authors write. They all draw on their ancestors to create a text in their unique trademark style. Readers can sometimes find literary allusions but no more than that.
In a pastiche, however, authors aim to adapt the style of the original to such an extent that they negate their own style. A reader will find it hard to distinguish between pastiche and original. A pastiche is
- Written by a fan of the original but it is not fan fiction.
- Admiring the original story (in contrast to a parody, see below).
- Imitating a pre-existing literary text in style and subject-matter.
- Continuing or expanding an existing storyline, sometimes adding new characters.
- Hiding the personal style of its writer.
- A work of fiction in its own right (unlike fan fiction, and unlike a parody).
Theoretically, pastiches can be written of any story. Here are three famous examples:
- Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (a pastiche of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet)
- Alexandra Ripley’s novel Scarlett (a pastiche of Gone with The Wind by Margaret Mitchell)
- John Banville’s Mrs Osmond (a pastiche of Henry James’s Portrait Of A Lady)
There’s no official statistic on which text sparked off most pastiches, but Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes would definitively be among the top of the list. Wikipedia has even devoted a whole article to its pastiches! We’ll look at some examples later.
How Do I Write A Pastiche?
Writing a pastiche, let alone a successful one is very hard. Why? Because its author needs great skill as a reader and as a writer. Here are four tips on how to do it.
1. Lay the groundwork for your own story. What will be the basic storyline of your pastiche? Here are three basic ideas (with examples from Sherlock Holmes pastiches):
- A continuation of the original story: Laurie King’s Mary Russell-series takes place after Sherlock Holmes has retired to Sussex. The famous sleuth even gets married!
- A part of the original story: Nicholas Meyer’s Seven-Percent Solution uses the original cast of characters, the setting, even certain elements of the storyline. It comes across as a story that Conan Doyle simply forgot to write.
- A minor character from the original plays a major role in the pastiche: Carole Nelson Douglas did that in her series on Irene Adler. A variant on that is to invent a character that simply fits well into the original universe (Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes-series does that where Sherlock Holmes suddenly has a sister).
2. Start reading and analysing the original. Act like a literary scholar. Know the story inside out. Analyse the style: What made the original such a compelling story? That’s what fans will look for in your pastiche. If you, as a modern author, are unable to satisfy these expectations, your readers will probably be disappointed. For example: if Sherlock Holmes is a completely logical and unemotional man in the original Conan Doyle stories, then he can’t be wallowing in his emotions in a pastiche. When Laurie King started to write her Mary Russell-series, she had to come up with a heroine who was able to spark a credible romantic emotion in Holmes. She was successful, just look at the sales figures for this series!
3. Analyse the setting. Where does the original take place? Where will your pastiche be set? What are the characteristic words and phrases of the period? What about props, like clothes, machines, forms of transportation? If you get the setting right down to the smallest detail, this will help to give your pastiche the feel of the original.
4. Don’t disappoint your readers. Pastiches are not ‘fan fiction’ (see this article for the difference), but their readers are likely to be hardcore fans of the original. They will compare your pastiche to its source. If you haven’t done your homework (see points 1-4), they will know and turn into your harshest critics.
What’s The Difference Between Pastiche And Parody?
Some say a pastiche is like a parody without the tongue-in-cheek attitude. The modern author’s attitude towards the original, either reverence or irreverence, decides largely whether the new text will be a pastiche or parody.
Both genres are closely related, both are imitations of the original text. But they’re not copies! They are too elaborate to be called plagiarism, they both recognise their original template. Both use allusions as stylistic devices.
- Pastiches are written because the demand for the original can no longer be met by its author. It’s this historical template that the modern author uses to continue the story in the original vein. A well-written pastiche is a work of fiction in its own right.
- Parodies are also imitations, but they use techniques of satire, like exaggeration, caricature, and ridicule to make fun of the original. To understand a parody, you need to know the original.
The mindset of the author of a parody is therefore completely opposed to the author of a pastiche.
What’s The Difference Between Fan Fiction And A Pastiche?
Fan Fiction is written for fans by fans. That makes it sound like a pastiche, doesn’t it? But they’re still very different.
- Fan Fiction is usually non-commercial. These stories reach their readers through non-traditional platforms such as Wattpad or Commaful. They are usually of lesser literary quality (with an enormous readership; check the numbers of Harry Potter-fan fiction!). Fan fiction authors often write for their own fun and even include idealised versions of themselves into the cast of characters.
- Pastiches try to get published traditionally. Imitating the style of the original author, they tend to be of a higher literary quality. The pastiche has an author invisible to the reader.
Fan fiction, parodies, and pastiches bring up questions of copyright. If you intend to publish one of them, check with the original author! They can react very differently. Anne Rice, for example, absolutely forbids using her characters, whereas J.K. Rowling does not object to non-commercial fan fiction, as long as its authors bear in mind that her Harry Potter-universe caters to underage children.
Why Should Every Writer Write A Pastiche?
It’s so much fun to make your all-time favourite story go on and on and on. Writing a pastiche also hones your craft as a writer. After all, you learn from a master! You slip into another writer’s fictional universe and navigate inside it, you learn to adopt different literary styles, and you are trying to convince the most critical readers: the ones dedicated to another author. If you can write a successful pastiche, you can probably write anything!
Here’s An Exercise For You:
The French writer Raymond Queneau once wrote a small story and then rewrote it 99 times in different styles. He called his pastiches Exercices de Style! Why don’t you follow his example? Write a short piece of flash fiction, no more than 100 words. Then rewrite it in different styles (here’s a list of Queneau’s styles). It’ll definitively get your creative juices flowing!
The Last Word
Writing a pastiche means you get to have a lot of fun with a storyline you love. We hope this article has given you a few tips on how to write one on your own. So go ahead, have some fun!
By Susanne Bennett. Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
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