Friday, November 4, 2011

Can My Setting Be Wonderland? Young Writers Want to Know! NaNoWriMo and Intertextuality

Yesterday, a student wrote me with a great question.  She wanted to know if she could set her NaNoWriMo novel in Wonderland. 

I answered her question the best I could, saying that fanfiction was all about borrowing from other texts, and literary allusion was all about borrowing from and referring to other texts.  To me, the biggest issue is one of ethics.  Are you openly borrowing and transforming, reinterpreting, and reinventing?  Or are you stealing under the guise of originality?

She answered the question for herself somehow by finding out about the issue of public domain.  To her, now that she knew there was no copyright ownership of Wonderland, she could use it in her novel.  But I told the class that although copyright is certainly a consideration, the issue really goes beyond that to one of ethics and artistic integrity, but that there were multiple grey areas we could discuss.

I googled intertextuality, and of course a boatload of postmodern academic linguistic semiotic mumbo-jumbo came up, which I could read and interpret and try to simplify for my high school students... or I could spend the next half hour working on my own word count on my novel, from which I am drawing on Celtic mythology, and Chinook stories and language. 

If anyone out there knows of a plain-language explanation I could use with my students, or an interesting and accessible set of interconnected texts we could use to discuss the issue, please leave me a comment.  Thanks!

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