Now, I didn't have to think too long about it before I answered. A lot of retellings are books and fairy tales that have been around for a long time - Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice. It's just a matter of copyright. Those books don't have copyright, while works that are fanfiction are based on copyrighted material.
But what happens when you take the copyright out of the equation? Shakespeare's Hamlet is based off of another work at that time, but I'm not irritated at him for that. So why does published fanfiction annoy me?
Until later, I didn't really think about that answer - we got into the realm of fairy tale retellings and such, which I'll discuss later. But then I started talking about it with my boyfriend and what the difference is.
Obviously, there's a time difference - more time has passed since Jane Eyre than since Twilight. But it's not just a fancy fanfiction, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; retellings need to be a retelling. Take Jane by April Lidner. The base of the story remains the same, but the characters and plot are adapted to a new time period. The heart of the story remains the same.
But in that case, what about fanfiction AUs? Fifty Shades of Grey does the same thing Jane does, if on a much more terrible level. Where's the line?
Of course, the copyright issue is the biggest one. But if that's all there is to it, than what's the issue with publishing it - besides it being terrible?
I think it may be that Fifty Shades of Grey and other similar stories try to shake off their fanfiction feel, where retellings acknowledge their roots. Whether that's because of the copyright issue or because they want to stand on their own. In which case - why write the fanfiction to begin with? Standing on your own isn't the point of it; the point is to add to canon.
It's a weird line, one gets increasingly fuzzier when you take the copyright issue out of it. But I think Diana Peterfreund hit it right on the head:
Fanfiction uses characters and not plot. More often than not, they manipulate the characters to break canon and act out of their norm. Retellings use plot and the base of characters, keeping them in character while adapting them to the new setting and time.
Of course, retellings aren't so problematic when it comes to fairy tales and not stories.
Fairy tales have never been complete stories, and there are many different versions of them; it's something that's always been adapted. Fairy tale retellings take only the skeleton of the story and give them characters and a real plot and a real story. In this case, there's no canon to borrow from and no author to worry about copyright.
Our conversation inspired Enna to go create a series of posts where she talks to authors about this sort of thing and where they stand; I'm really excited to see it and if they touched on points that I haven't even thought about! I'll be sure to link it to you guys when it goes live.
What do you think differentiates fanfiction and retellings?