Songfic

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Synonyms:
See also: badfic, song fandom, Lyric Wheel
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Songfic is a fanfiction term for stories which include song lyrics, which may be interposed between sections of the story, or given to a character who sings them. The fic may also include said song being heard on the radio by one or more of the characters in the fic who react accordingly to said song.

This type of fic is often disparaged in LiveJournal fandom and in other fandoms as badfic; however, it remains quite popular in other spaces, such as fanfiction.net, despite the fact that posting songfics is explicitly against the rules.[1] Other archives such as fanfiktion.de and the Archive of Our Own do allow songfics, but expressedly forbid the inclusion of the entirety of a song's lyrics.[2][3]

The custom of titling fic from a fragment of song lyrics is widely practiced and considered distinct, although works inspired by a song while not directly quoting it may sometimes be considered a type of songfic as well.[4]

Fan Comments

1998

I can't help being a little trepidatious when I open up a new story, and I see long sections of lyrics. And, as I'm sure will surprise none of you, I have reasons for feeling this way. First reason: I've seen a number of brilliantly-done songvids; I suppose there's an assumption that you can get the same impact from a piece of fic that incorporates lyrics from a song. The problem there is that songvids are a visual-auditory medium that are meant to convey a mood, rather than a piece of writing that's intended (frequently, though there are exceptions) to describe a sequence of events. Without the musical track and the painstakingly selected video clips, simply plugging a song into a story -- or inserting a few paragraphs of action or dialogue into long sections of lyrics -- can't have anywhere near the same effect. There are very, very few songwriters whose works can be read as poetry

Second reason: We've all heard the saying, "There's no accounting for taste." This is part of what makes song stories risky -- a song that expresses deep emotion to one person will come across to someone else as cheap sentimentality. You can't say that one person is right and the other wrong, but if a story features a song that the reader dislikes, it's automatically going to color their impression of the fic.

Third reason: Technically, they're difficult to do well. The reason for this can be summed up in one word -- pacing. The author has to integrate the song into the story in such a way that it doesn't suck the forward momentum out of the action. All too often, though, everything grinds to a halt while one character sings to another, or while a solitary character listens to the radio. (I can't be the only person out there who remembers Cop Rock.) It doesn't do anything to move the story forward, and it's seldom (though I repeat what I said above, that there are exceptions) that the song actually serves to reveal something about the characters.

Fourth reason: Stories with songs tend to follow this pattern: A verse from the song is transcribed, and the character in question thinks, "Why, that's exactly how I feel about things. I, too, long to be close to him, just like the birds that suddenly appear." Then there's another verse, or perhaps a chorus, and the character continues thinking, "Yes, on the day that he was born, the angels did get together and decide to create a dream come true." [5]
Yes, a well placed line or two from another work even a pop song *can* work well occasionally; but usually, use of song lyrics in fanfic is just plain LAZY. Most of the time, I just skip over song lyrics when I see them. Ironically, much of the time the story is absolutely *fine* which just drives home to me that the song lyrics are totally unnecessary. I think what is happening is some writers are a little caught up in the fact that they are writing fanfic for a television show. Soundtracks exist in television shows because TV shows are an audiovisual medium. Literature (Yes, even literature based/inspired by TV.) is by definition text only. I think too often fanfic writers try to create a "soundtrack" for their stories forgetting that only they can "hear" the song. Really, the song only has a chance to work with a relatively small population of potential readers who happen to be familiar with the song. On the point that song lyrics = poetry, sorry, that's just not the case. (Though, I want to point out poetry and prose from other sources are sometimes also overused in fanfic.) I used to believe in that equation too; I distinctly remember defending my favorite music to my parents as a kid with that argument. Now I realize it was a poor defense. No, I'm not saying lyrical music is necessarily a lesser art form than poetry; it's just a different one. The words in poetry are meant to stand on their own. Most song lyrics are written to be with music and most song lyrics suffer greatly without their music. Ultimately, songs are meant to be heard not read. [6]

1999

I do have problems with song fic, because I listen to so little contemporary music that it tends to be lost on me. And, as someone who almost *always* is ignorant of the song being used in the song fic, I feel I can speak authoritatively from a position of ignorance. My main gripe here is that song *lyrics* are rarely poetry. In other words, they seldom have impact when divorced from the music they were written to be matched with. You song-ficcers, try this experiment. When your favorite musical artist has a new album out, buy the album, and read the lyrics (assuming lyrics are provided) *before* you listen to the music. If you've heard the music, you can have the musical accompaniment running in your head when you read a lyric, and so it sounds just fine to you. So read the lyrics before you know the music. I think you'll discover that without the music, the lyrics sound rather silly, and certainly don't evoke much in the way of emotion. That's how *all* song fic strikes me, and is the reason I delete song fic unread. If you *only* want the people who know your favorite music to read and/or appreciate your story, that's fine. But if you have some other means of getting your points across, evoking the emotions you wish to evoke, you'll certainly broaden your audience by not requiring them to do musical homework before being able to appreciate your story. [7]
I find it *VERY* hard to believe that really any character on any of the series would croon Celine Dion into anyone's ear. Or dance to it or get down to it .... No offense to Celine Dion, but it just doesn't fit. As don't the majority of the other 20th century songs used in fics. I'm much more believing of stories based on a song, where the lyrics and/or the song aren't actually used in the story, just mentioned at the beginning or end. But, as always, there are some wonderful exceptions out there. :) [8]
One has to be careful in completely embracing or dismissing use of popular music or how they're used. I use lyrics in some cases the way some people use Shakespeare quotes. It started out as my way of poking the more pretentious writers in the eye by saying, "Hey, look! Some coked up guy from London said something equally deep." And the thing is, nobody noticed, or at least said anything. They were just trappings on the story, but they always fit, and the reader did not really need to know the song in question. Anymore, I just do it because, quite frankly, it works, and no one ever complains that they thought they were looking at a music video. [9]
I agree that "songfic" is problematic. Particularly for Trek. I just find it really distracting. I can't get absorbed in the story. Rather, I'm busy thinking, "How likely is it that they'll still remember the Backstreet Boys in 300 years?" Or, yes, shuddering: "Please tell me they won't still be playing Celine Dion in 300 years." <g> On the other hand, they do it in the canon. "Someone To Watch Over Me" reran last night, prominently featuring the song of the title, as well as "You Are My Sunshine." Centuries of songs from a galaxy's worth of cultures, and they always seem to choose 20th century American. How likely is that? [10]

2013

... the big, bad establishment of fanfiction.net still insists on no songfics. They insist it’s against copyright law and that by violating their rules, you break their terms of service. Wait a moment, who wrote their terms of service? Did an actual lawyer come up with them or did some eighteen year old English major with no law experience at all come up with them? I’ll bet my money on the former. But alas, the moderators still get nasty and say, “You should be thankful we’re giving you a site to host all of your stories.” That’s basically a polite way of saying, “Kiss my ass. You’re in our court now.” Fair enough. But they’re not the only site that publishes fan fiction. They’re just the most popular. Many more sites allow songfics. Archive of Our Own allows songfics as long as credit is given to the artist. Wattpad has a small fanfiction section that’s not very impressive (considering most of it is slash and One Direction fics) but they allow songfics as long as you quote only a few lyrics at a time and give credit to the artist. While Quizilla has a strict copyright policy, it doesn’t apply to song lyrics as songfics are being published there every single day (though granted they aren’t getting any traffic since Quizilla stopped being relevant in 2008).

[snipped]

And if we STILL really want to whine about songfics being blatant copyright infringements, isn’t fan fiction, in and of itself, a form of plagiarism? Some authors, like JK Rowling, lovingly gave their blessing to have fan fiction written about their works. But about ten authors have made it VERY clear they don’t want fan fiction written about their works and see it either as an offhanded form of plagiarism or, to put it simply, like broadband tap dancing all over their work. [11]
While some critics that I’ve run into view the ‘songfic’ as a lesser form of writing, I think that it can be well done if the author is cognizant of the medium and respects the bounds of the fandom they are inhabiting. The beauty of a songfic is that it manages to draw from both the auditory and visual memory of the reader. The inclusion of lyrics can, when well done, bring elements to the story that would be absent otherwise. Reading is frankly rather sterile in its essence as there is nothing but words on a page. The world the author creates is what gives reading life. Thus the inclusion of music in a story can widen the readers view of the world they are visiting. Many famous authors used music and poetry to enhance their worlds; J. R. R. Tolkien was quite fond of including songs in his books, Lewis Carroll included poetry, which has a musicality all its own. Even J. K. Rowling’s Sorting Hat had a song. So there is nothing wrong with including music in your work. However, It can be done very very badly. [4]

Further Reading/Meta

References

  1. Content Guidelines of ff.net: Under Actions not Allowed: 3. Copying from a previously published work (including musical lyrics) not in the public domain.
  2. Verbote und Einschränkungen auf ff.de: Songfics dürfen unter der Voraussetzung verfaßt werden, daß der Storyanteil deutlich über dem Anteil des Songtextes liegt und der Songtext nicht komplett und ohne Unterbrechung vorliegt.
  3. AO3 Terms of Service: Epigraphs and short quotations, including quotations from song lyrics and poetry, are allowed. Content that is set within or draws on an existing work is allowed. Reproductions of entire copyrighted works—whether songs, poems, transcripts, or other material—are not allowed without the consent of the copyright owner.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Writing – Sing, Sing a Songfic, Ann O'Malley, January 24, 2013
  5. Sing a song..., Archived version, comments by Adoratrice
  6. Teddi Litman, ENOUGH WITH THE SONGS ALREADY!, January 21, 1998
  7. alt.startrek.creative, February 1999, comment by Joyce Harmon
  8. alt.startrek.creative, February 1999, comment by Martha
  9. alt.startrek.creative, February 1999, comment by J. Winter
  10. alt.startrek.creative, February 1999, comment by Shayney
  11. Should Songfics Be Allowed?; WebCite, Ruhter's Ruckus (2013)