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The Problems with Pastiche

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Aug. 17th, 2012 | 11:38 pm
posted by: jane_elliot in epic_rants

A couple of years ago, Jeeves & Wooster was one of my favorite fandoms.  The quality to crap ratio was astonishingly high, the writers were wonderfully consistent, and the fics were fun, if short.  Given ten J&W fics, I'd often rec six or seven, with another one or two that were good enough to rec but too short for my rec community.

Today I realized that I almost never read Jeeves & Wooster fics anymore and when I do try a story, nine times out of ten I can't make it past the first few pages.  Thinking over this, I realized the problem is with the pastiche.

For those who don't know, a pastiche is a work that imitates the style of another.  This is different than fanfiction in that fanfiction generally uses the *characters* of another creative work, while a pastiche merely uses the *style* of the work.  That said, some fanfic can also be pastiches and long before fanfic had a name, there were pastiches that were also fanfics (see: Sherlock Holmes).  The Jeeves & Wooster fandom, more than any other fandom I read, is dominated by pastiches of the canon author's style, to the point that a fic that isn't written as a pastiche would probably not even be considered a J&W fanfic.

All of which is fine and dandy.  The problem lies in the fact that a pastiche is only as good as its style and these days more and more J&W fanfics are so heavily stylized (especially with Bertie's abbreviations and euphamisms) that it no longer even resembles Wodehouse's original style.  This reminds me of a complaint made by a comic book editor who noted that many comic book artists are learning how to draw graphics not by studying classical art and anatomy, but by studying comic books.  Thus while the original comic characters were realistic, albeit in the best physical shape any human being could possibly manage, after a few decades of artists learning comic style without learning the basics of drawing, comic book characters have become borderline grotesque, with breasts larger than women's heads and men's muscles bulging to such an extreme that they look like they belong on an entirely different species.

Now, I'm not saying that the current crop of J&W writers have never read the original J&W stories.  I am saying that over the last couple of years the heavy emphasis on all of those quirky writing flourishes that Wodehouse used sparingly (and to great effect) have seriously impacted the quality of the fandom's output as a whole, to the point that some stories are utterly unreadable (not the least because it's hard to read a story when every other sentence has a key word that's been abbreviated down to just its first letter).  To that end, I really wish that any person thinking of a writing J&W fanfic would, at the very least, read some of Wodehouse's Jeeves stories (here are two books you can read completely free and legally online).  Even if you've read them before, a quick perusal of a short story or two wouldn't take up much time.  Then if you want to use a flourish every sentence or two, at least you're doing so as an educated choice, rather than just assuming that if one flourish is good, 100 flourishes would be even better.

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Comments {5}

Torra Kimbul

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from: torra
date: Aug. 18th, 2012 07:43 am (UTC)
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Oh good, it's not just me! I was trying to explain this to someone at a con a few weeks back and just could not put it so eloquiently as you just did. That is EXACTLY the problem I've been running into and trying to put into words. I think I've read maybe one good J&W fic in the last year and mostly that's because I gave up reading new J&W fics sometime around Yuletide. ::sighs:: (Not because of any fics that may have come out of Yuletide, mind you, it was just around that timespan that I gave up entirely.)

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jane_elliot

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from: jane_elliot
date: Aug. 24th, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
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Sorry this reply is so late -- I was moving.

Honestly, at this point I think there is exactly one J&W writer that I consider worth reading and I think she's only written one story in the last two years. It's really unfortunate, too, because another author is consistently writing J&W epics but because she uses so many literary flourishes, I find her stories harder to read than college level textbooks (the difference being, the college level textbooks are *supposed* to be hard to read). Hopefully J&W writers will go back to basics in the future, but I fear by that point I will have given up on the fandom entirely.

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sibiriens

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from: sibiriens
date: Aug. 19th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
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THANK YOU! This is just how I've felt the last few years since I started falling out of fandom with J&W.

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jane_elliot

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from: jane_elliot
date: Aug. 24th, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
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It's been frustrating, hasn't it? Especially since it used to be my absolute favorite smallish fandom. *sigh*

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Bulldog

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from: bulldogscram
date: Apr. 16th, 2013 04:26 pm (UTC)
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(Urm, hi, totally delurking here. Hope you don't mind me commenting on this!)

This is a very interesting post. I actually post in the J/W fandom under a different name that, to save everyone's blushes but particularly my own, I shall not post here. ;) It's really nice to see frankness on this subject. I completely agree with you, in general terms there have been fewer well written fics in the last few years. Especially if you compare it to, say, innocentsmith's writing or some of veronamay's classics, or my particular favourite 'Jeeves and the Tennis Coach'. It is unfortunate that all of what you could call the classic J/W writers have moved on to other fandoms. In defence of the current crop of writers though (myself included), we all have to start somewhere and Wodehouse's style is particularly hard to write well. Sort of like jumping in the deep end I suppose. Personally I am always trying to improve, as I'm sure everyone else is too. I hope that gives you hope. :)

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