Issues in Modernizing Classics: Is It Just Fan Fiction

I think the final, and most difficult, issue when modernizing a classic is the risk of it being nothing more than fan fiction.  It’s not that fan fiction is bad in any way, but that fan fiction is a beast unto itself.  There is more variety in fan fiction than in any other writing out there.  It is often the playground for those learning to be better writers or those who wish to write in a universe created by others.  I write fan fiction, but I know when I have written fan fiction and when I have an original idea.

For me, modernizing Austen, is about taking the themes and applying it to a modern situation.  Yet, I still face concerns about falling into common tropes and tropes that are unique to fan fiction.  The one thing I am obsessed with avoiding is a trope called the Mary Sue.  In fan fiction, this character is nearly perfect and is typically the author in the story.  She looks like the author, she has the same flaws as the author, she typically disrupts the canonical narrative of the original author.

My biggest concern when I am writing a modernization is that I am not simply writing me and Captain Wentworth, me and Mr. Darcy, or me and Henry Tilney.  I want each female lead to be her own person.  Yet, I know I am still writing elements of me into all these characters.  It’s more than I don’t want my reader to think I am just trying to have my hero in some way.  In fact, even when I write fan fiction I try to do the same.

How do I make sure I am not just writing fan fiction?  I focus on the themes, I change names if necessary, I think of my original main character, and I think about what happens today in situations.  Even with all of this, when I edit, I often ask myself about what is going on.  I realized, with the book I am currently editing, that I often write as if I am just telling myself the story.  I don’t want it to read like that.  I want there to be action, I want things to go untold or unexplained, and I want readers to feel they are in the narrative rather than just being told the story.  I am avoiding re-reading Modern Persuasion to make sure I did that.  I don’t want to tinker with a project that is put to bed.  I would rather readers see my growth as a writer than never stop editing and editing.

What do you think?  Have you read books that are clearly just fan fiction?  Do you read books and wonder if the author has just put his/her self into the book?  What books do you think are most guilty of being mere fan fiction?

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