Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Loaded Canon

Today,  want to talk about something that's been bugging me a little bit, and that thing is canon. I don't mean cannon,  like the ones used in war or on pirate ships, that's double-N cannon, I mean the one to do with intertextual continuity. If you get the two confused and want a mnemonic device to remember, just keep in mind that cannonball has double-L as well as double-N [cannonball].

Anyway, canon. So, why is it bugging me? Well, so many people seem to have trouble with it. Or, they avoid it. Or, they think that they can change it around and make a story better. Or they don't know what it is and they want someone to explain it.
For all of these people, this blog post is for you. The Word of the Day is: 'CANON'

Canon /'kanən/ n. 1. An ecclesiastical rule or law enacted by a council or other competent authority and, in the Roman Catholic Church, approved by the pope. 2. The body of ecclesiastical law. 3. The body of rules, principles, or standards accepted as axiomatic and universally binding in a field of study or art: The neoclassical canon. 4. A fundamental principle or general rule; standard; criterion: The canons of taste. 5. Any officially recognized set of sacred books. 6. Any comprehensive list of books within a field. 7. The works of an author that have been accepted as authentic: There are 37 plays in the Shakespeare canon. 8. Music Consistent, note-for-note imitation of one melodic line by another, in which the second line starts after the first.

Well, that's a whole lot of confusing right there. Religion, music and fields of study, it's all getting lost in the different iterations of this word's meaning. So, let's make this simpler and find ourselves the radix meaning of this word.
See, the word 'canon' comes from the Greek word kanṓn which means 'measuring rod'. It's unusual, but it makes sense if you think about it. Canon is basically a list of things which can be used to measure an ideal - just as you use a metre ruler to measure or define centimetres; or use statistical data to measure or define a population, you can also have a set of books to measure or define a certain literary canon.

Now, in my line of work - that is, fictional story-writing - canon relates to a group of stories which are officiated as one part of a larger story. Overall, canon is very simple to maintain if it's all written by one person, because that one person can just write whatever they want. It's their story, after all, they write it and they can have fun with it, because what they say goes. But things get more complicated when you bring it other writers.

I sort of spoke about this before, with comic books, when I was talking about continuity in a very old blog post, but see there's one major difference between what I was talking about then and what I want to talk about now. See, my issue with poor continuity is that it's often just a case of laziness; it makes your story poorer when you don't put in the effort, it can create plot holes & it makes people like me very annoyed that you care less about your work than I do.
But canon? That's more serious, because if your work is not canonical, it becomes essentially irrelevant. In fact, that's how I judge a lot of fanfiction stories, if your story does not adhere to canon, it is irrelevant, and it does not deserve to be read.

I don't consider myself to be a fan of fanfiction; because when I say "fanfiction", the first thing that comes to my mind is poorly written smut. If it's not smut, then it's Mary Sue fiction, with some unstoppable, infinitely loveable, always right, perfect, author-insert character. If it's not Mary Sue fiction, then it's . . . eurghk . . . 'Shipping'. Your ships disgust me.
I hate all of this. Not because I don't appreciate these people expressing their fandom, fandom is not something I engage in but I don't want to stop fangirls and fanboys from their fanaticism.
No, I hate it because you expect other people to read your work, and if you do that whilst not adhering to canon, then you are a terrible fan. Unless you, from the very offset, explain that you're writing an AU (Alternate Universe), you can't just pair up whomever you want, write however you want, shoehorn in your own terribly-written character and expect your story to matter. It doesn't work like that.

  "But, Absurd Word Nerd," I hear you ask, "Don't you write fanfiction? In fact, one might argue that your character 'The Duke' is a Mary Sue."
  "Ha," I would respond mirthlessly, with confidence and derision. Because first of all, no he's not; more importantly, although Duke Forever is technically fanfiction, it does something which not enough fanfics do, it's canonical. I mean that inasmuch as, everything I say in-story, adheres to both Doctor Who & Stargate canon. Most people who do crossovers just sort of mash them together, but as I've shown before, you can have crossovers that are not only interesting, but which can make more sense crossed-over than they would apart.

(Egocentric Self-Congratulatory Paragraph Warning!)
See, the beauty of Stargate is that, on Earth, it's set entirely within a top-secret facility and one of it goals is to remain hidden from the peoples of Earth, so it can easily gel with Doctor Who canon. Although they are both sci-fi, it makes sense that they haven't crossed over before, because Stargate Command is set in the United States, and most of the stories of Doctor Who & Torchwood are set in and around the United Kingdom.
They also have related concepts like hyperdrives, time travel, aliens, extra-galactic populated planets & futurism; so there's very little within each that can even potentially contradict the other. If any problems do arise, all I need to point out is that the universe is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really big - probably even bigger than that - and that explains why, despite intergalactic battles and hundreds of alien species, they don't cross over.
Of course, there's one little crossover snarl involving an ancient religion, but I plan on explaining that in a later chapter, stay tuned for that.
(Egocentric Self-Congratulatory Paragraph Concluded)

See, when I write fanfiction, there is one, golden rule: Canon is King
It doesn't matter what you believe or what you appreciate or depreciate within a work, because canon is king, it rules everything and everything I write is dictated by canon. I do this for a very good reason, and I think that every fanfiction writer should do this as well, allow me to explain why . . .
I'll use comics as an example. Something my Beloved has talked about with me - and personally finds quite despicable - is in the Batman comicbooks, there was a character called Jason Todd, one of the boys who took up the role of Robin. He was a bit of a brat and quite young, so a lot of people didn't like him and in fact, some comic writers didn't like him either, so, to decide what to do, they set up a telephone poll.
Comicbook readers were provided with two phone numbers, one for "Kill" and another for "Save" and asked to call one to vote, and in-so-doing decide his fate. This is an interesting idea, and one that should probably be explored in further detail, the idea of giving an audience control of a story's 'canon' in this way. But the results of this event are what I want you to focus on, because they are most telling.

There's some talk of people cheating the system, by using computer programs to redial the number over and over again, but what matters is that, in the end, it was voted that he should be killed. So, he died in Batman issue #428.
As a result, all of the people that wanted him to live were very upset, because the end poll result was about 50/50 (49.7 % voted save; 50.3 % voted kill); even though he was not a popular character, they received a ton of hatemail and negative press because of the event.

To me, this shows that, when you hold in your hands the responsibility of a canon which does not belong to you, you need to tread very lightly. Even if you hate a character, vehemently, it doesn't mean you should kill him. Because when you're handling someone else's canon, you're not the only fan of that work. So even if you don't like something, that doesn't mean you should be allowed to badmouth it, kill it or render it obsolete - because this isn't your story, you don't have that right.
The iconic example of this is Steven Moffat. Love him or hate him, you can't deny that details of the regeneration in the last episode of Series 7, "Time of the Doctor", threw the whole numbering system arse-over-tit for no good reason [If you don't mind spoilers for Series 8 and want to know more, just click this link].
I don't hate the man, but I think anyone who can do that to a canon has no respect for the source material.

This is related to a trope known as 'Armed with Canon', the idea being that, when you are responsible for a story and its canon, you can use it almost aggressively. Rewriting, writing off and outright destroying a story to your own ends, when you have control of its canon.
Now, of course, fanfictions don't have creative control of canon (not really, anyway), but the result is the same. If you don't adhere to previously-established continuity within canon, then you're still destroying the story. But in this case, the only you're destroying is your own, and its relevancy. That's why I've titled this blog post 'loaded canon', because - like a loaded gun - canon is dangerous not just for your audience, but for yourself, and you need to handle it carefully.

Which brings me to the part of this which really annoys me. Fiction is fictional, it's fantasy. It doesn't have to adhere to nature's laws, it doesn't have to be entirely logical and you can do pretty much whatever you want.
And that's the most important part whatever you want. I understand that, if you hate a character or a particular plot element, you might be inclined to ignore it or get rid of it. But why? This is a story and you're meant to be a writer! And in a lot of cases, these stories are sci-fi. So, why kill them when you can do so much more without pissing everyone off?
I mean, have you never heard of a holiday? You could easily put them on a bus and send them to Egypt. Or you could put them into an ancient, Peruvian trance, or you could put them into cryo-freeze or you even could give them the common cold and send them to the hospital. It's not difficult to remove a character from your story without killing them. Hell, you could make the story about the other characters trying to fetch the cure for their truancy from your story.
Or, if you want a character to act a certain way for your story, why make them act out of character for no reason? Why not involve mind control, or have some kind of doppleganger take their place?
Sure, perhaps it might seem like a bit of a cop out, but remember this is not your canon and are you a writer or not?! It's not difficult to write in canon, I do it all the time. If you think that's too hard then don't write fanfiction!

Look, I understand fanfiction, and I admit that while I prefer not to label it as such, Duke Forever is fanfiction. I appreciate people writing fanfiction for fun, or to practice their writing, that's a good way to get into writing. And even bad fanfiction is allowed, inasmuch as any bad fiction is allowed, practice makes perfect, and I know that you have to start by sucking.
But that doesn't mean that I or anyone else has to read it. Sure, write what you want for fun and practice, I'm not trying to get anyone to stop writing stories (or crossover/AU fanfics), I'm just here telling you how to write better stories. And believe it or not, adhering to canon is the kind of practice which helps with your own stories. If you know how to adapt someone else's fictional world to suit your story, then it becomes even simpler to adapt your own story for whatever tale you want to tell.

Anyway, that's enough from me.

I'm sorry if today's post was a little bit 'rambly', but this is the first new blog post I've written in a while, and I'm a little sick today. But very soon, I'll be writing more posts and I should even get more Duke Forever written.
Until next time, don't be discouraged from writing if you now know that I dislike your work. I just want more people to write better stories. I'm not annoyed because I think you people can't write well; I'm annoyed because I think you can write better than this, and I expect more of you.I  don't think that fanfiction or even fanfiction writers are inherently bad. And one day, I would love to encourage people to write fanfiction about my stories. I want people to put in the effort to make them canonical - and if they did, I might even be encouraged to officiate them into canon - but that can't happen if you're still trying to find an excuse to make Madam Hooch sleep with Professor Dumbledore . . .

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