Thursday, February 11, 2010

GuestEssay: Canon Fodder Part 1 with giselle-lx

Canon Fodder: The What, Who, Why and How of Canon Twific: Part 1


“What do you prefer? Canon, or non-canon?”

I cringe when I see this question. Why? Not because I’m worried about what might come of such a discussion or because I’m afraid of being judged as an author who more or less writes canon fic. As skins go, I’ve got a thick one and I put it to good use whenever possible.

No, what makes me cringe is that this question, phrased this way, is almost invariably not about canon fic at all. It generally refers to pairings—do you prefer Edward/Bella only, or is it okay for the occasional Bella/Jasper to creep into your world? Nearly everyone who answers this question will read it as such, and perhaps one poor confused (but actually spot-on) soul will pipe up about their preferences for fic genre: canon vs. AU.

Why has this happened? One issue we seem to run into a lot in this fandom is the use of the word “AU” to encapsulate anything that is non-AH. Typically, though “AU” is used to differentiate fics which keep the canon world but alter its circumstances—“AU” in this sense is an opposite to “canon.” It’s no secret that in our fandom, the all-human genre is still king, and probably will remain so until the fandom dies.
, author of
Dark Side of the Moon
has some comments on why:
I think it’s the nature of the story, actually. Twilight is, at its heart, a romance. The who and the where and the how (vampires, wolves or humans) don’t really matter. The core of the story is the very simply star-crossed lovers who have to get over monumental hurdles to be together.

Just about everyone loves a good romance staring our favorite Edward Cullen, and where he is or who he is largely doesn’t matter, as long as we can connect to him and re-experience the thrill of reading his romance to Bella Swan once again. But while AH and AU may reign supreme for their ability to put us back in that heart-thudding, swept-of-our-feet courtship, what can get overlooked is the power of the Twilight world itself to drive an equally compelling story—a story told in pure canon.

The One-N Only Canon

First, let’s make sure we’ve got the terminology straight. There is no such thing as “cannon” fan fiction, unless perhaps you’re writing in the Pirates of the Caribbean fandom. I know, I know, you think this is just a grammarian’s nitpick, but bear with me here.

The one-N canon isn’t a word invented by fandom, and understanding its root definition is at the core of understanding how we use it in fic. The dictionary I have most handy (The Oxford Essential Dictionary, American Edition, 1998) gives us two relevant definitions of canon: ‘a general law, rule, principle, or criterion’ and ‘a collection or list of books, etc. accepted as genuine.’

Okay. So with canon, we’re dealing with issues of law and genuineness. This helps us spring forward a bit into the fan fiction definitions of canon.
gives a pretty straightforward answer:
A canon, in terms of a fictional universe, is a body of material that is considered to be "genuine" or "official", that can be directly referenced as, or as if it were, material produced by the original author or creator of a series.

In Twilight, the definition of canon fic is relatively straightforward (I say relatively because I’ll get into
some of the oddities of it a little later)—the four books, the plots therein, and the timeline established by them set the parameters that a canon fic needs to comply with. In this respect, we’re actually in a great position in Twific with regards to canon. Our canon was laid out for us, in its entirety, in four books which were published relatively quickly. Unlike some fandoms where the creation of the canon is spread out, for example long-running TV series, or Harry Potter, where the canon was released over the course of a decade, most of us knew the entire arc of the canon story going in to the process of writing fic.

This may, of course be why it is a less popular genre in this fandom than in others—there is not as much room to experiment with the “maybe,” seeing as we’ve already got all of the “what.” Nevertheless, there’s still a LOT of room to play while writing a fic which adheres to the canon, and the ability to play with the canon and stretch its bounds a little bit is often the source of the fun.

, author of “

[J]ust about any story can be told within the Twilight-canon universe. You just have to tell stories *differently* with fantasy vampires than you do with real-life humans.

I’m Not Jossing You: What Makes a Fic Canon?

So where is the line? At what point is a “vamp AU” actually a canon-compliant fic?

The simplest answer is that if the fic alters anything from the canon, then it moves into AU. But then the question must be asked, what exactly are we considering as the canon, and what defines an alteration? I’ll be the first to tell you it’s slippery, but there are certainly things which mark canon as canon. So come slide down the slope—we’ll start with the clearest-cut and move to the foggiest.

Bella Who?—Alternate POV

One of the most recognizable type of canon fic is the alternate POV fic—where the narrator is swapped out for some other character. Frequently this character is Edward, because who wouldn’t want a little more of our beloved Edward? Some examples here might be
Thy Beauty
Dark Side of the Moon
for book 2,
Edward’s Eclipse
for book 3, and
for Book 4. Other characters can be useful for these POV switches as well, however—a great example of this is
retelling of book 1 in Alice’s point of view. The hallmarks of an alt-POV are often re-tellings of scenes that we saw in the books, complete with canon dialogue and events. It’s pretty straightforward to identify these fics as being canon—they make it abundantly clear from their format that they are following the books.

I often hear from people who enjoy the genre of OOC fic that re-characterizing Edward and co. allows them to connect with the characters in their own way. However, similar sentiments are often expressed by writers of canon Alt-POV:

Justine Lark
, author of “
Sunshine State
” and “

I enjoy writing canon because writing about Edward or expressing his thoughts and feelings in his POV….In my own mind, I’m so attached to him and identified with him that I think that Stephenie writes him out of character sometimes!

Eventually, though, when you’re in another character’s head during the span of the books something else will need to be shown. So this leads us to:

She Left This Part Out!—Missing Moments

Emilie Fauve
, author of
In My Power

It’s like filling in the middle bit of a puzzle, but with your own, hand-drawn image. And then, when it’s all completed, you see how the edges of your artwork line up with the “edge” pieces.

Many canon writers, myself included, will tell you this is how they got their start—by seeing an opening, as it were, in the canon itself and writing to fill it.
s one-shot,
“Playing Footsie,”
was recced to me by a number of people as a wonderful exploration of a tender B/E moment.
“Most Dangerous Predator”
imagines an important conversation between Carlisle and Bella before her change.

Often missing moments are one-shots or a series of one-shots, plugging small holes in the canon. But it’s also possible to run a multi-chapter missing moment fic. One that stands out in its creativity is “
Sunshine State
” by
Justine Lark
, which takes on Bella and Edward’s weekend in Jacksonville in Eclipse.

What makes a missing moment canon, when we have nothing to go on from the books? One is consistent characterization. In the fics mentioned above, the characters keep the personalities we know from canon, and typically, this is what the author relies upon in choosing what will happen with the missing moment(s). In addition they don’t contradict the events in the books. That means that if Edward mentions that he was hit by a flying squirrel while he and Jasper were hunting, and the hunt is the missing moment? Well, then, bring on the flying squirrel.

But missing-moment fics may often tend to be short, by their very natures. What if you want to tell an epic story?

Who’s Your Daddy?—Backstory, Side-story, and Future

This is probably where our canon, in particular, gives a writer the most freedom. We really do have sort of a neat closed little package, with some hints of guiderails from Meyer about what may have happened to the characters. But there’s lots and lots of room for writers to fill in the gaps.

As of late, I’ve stumbled across some great new-ish backstories on Alice (
Mary, Full of Grace
, by
Elise Montgomery
and Jane (
Becoming Jane
). In these, as in all good backstory fics, the authors fill in what we know from canon, while giving us a path that helps explain how the characters got to be where they are.

The canon couples, likewise, are good sites for exploration—just how did Carlisle and Esme fall in love? You might try
No Longer Alone
. Jasper and Alice?
You’ve Kept Me Waiting
, by

Another place ripe for canon creation are side stories, filling in the gaps of the characters who danced on the periphery of our star-crossed lovers’ story. And there were a LOT of them. The other kids at school? The wolf pack? All rife for side-story, all canon.

The last part of adding on to the canon proper is—gulp—the future. Although it may seem BD was pretty tied-up, some very fascinating stories can come out of the future of the canon—ones which provide great insight into what the Cullens look like after the “happily ever after” (and which may forever change your perspective on the-baby-who-should-not-have-been-named). There are a number of these, so I will recommend one short fic and two authors to check out:
“5 Times Renesmee Threw a Tempter Tantrum”
, and a number of the one-shots by
Justine Lark
. Future stories have no way to cling to canon for content, and so they stay canon through recognizable characterization alone. For this reason future fics are a great way to continue hanging out with the characters you loved all through the saga.

You Aren’t Who I Thought You Were—Canon as a Lie

Now, this is where I admit to being a little further out of my league, if for no other reason than given the general low numbers of people attempting of canon fic in this fandom, this particular
type of canon, which is a rarer type to begin with, is particularly scarce. Being a good academic, I site my sources and influences, in this case
, whose experience in fandoms far outweighs my own.

It is possible to write a canon story which presumes that part of the canon was a lie, or at least, which plays with things which were implied in the canon. For all intents, this is the most difficult type of canon to write, because it requires that the author build the story in such a way that the same canon which implied Situation A actually justifies Situation B.
“Beauty, Shining in Company”
has an unorthodox answer to the question of how Edward could be so sure he would love Bella even if she grew old.
“For My Own”
gives us a glimpse at exactly what Carlisle meant when he said, “We’ve all slipped” at that fateful dinner table conversation in Midnight Sun.

Now, opinions on this type of canon are going to vary widely, and you may very well disagree with me on calling these canon at all. But what makes them work is the narrow view we got in canon—everything coming through Bella, who thinks Edward can do absolutely no wrong. There’s actually a LOT of room there to suggest that perhaps she or Edward misinterpreted—but it must be done with care.

Jossing and Tossing

The last thing I’d like to touch on is one that is largely not a problem for our fandom—“jossed” fics, or fics which have become AU by further additions to the canon. (Yes, the term comes from Joss Whedon, who did this to his fic writers a lot.) As strange as it may seem to some of us, myself included, who hit the fandom well after the fourth book was released, there are a
still a large number of fics written prior to the finishing of the canon, and which, while canon future fics at the time, are now “jossed” canon.
First Light
, by
is a perfectly in-canon look at what Bella and Edward’s Happily Ever After might have looked like, before Stephenie Meyer stepped in with her own version.
Ruby Wednesday
lets Edward and Bella have some fun pre-BD. Such fics are generally considered to still be canon, as it’s not the author’s fault that the real author stepped in and screwed them up!

Finally, we are in an increasingly-common situation in our fandom whereby the author herself has added to the canon with extra snippets, a half-draft of a POV-switch novel, and interviews galore. There is a lot of cross-fandom debate as to whether these things can and should be considered when evaluating any given work, and there are loud camps on both sides of the debate. My not-so-humble advice on this front is—if it violates the books, you’re in AU territory. If it violates the extras…well, explain why you chose not to use them (sometimes SM’s interviews contradict the books, and that’s a great reason to throw those out).

Whew! It’s a lot to take in, right? Well, I hope it’s been an enjoyable journey through the “what” and the “who” of canon Twific, and gives some sense of how you can ferret out some good canon. Stay tuned for part II: why you might want to try writing it (gulp!) and how to go about doing so. In closing, I’ll leave you with a little bit of the why, from

Canon writing is a great way to stay connected to the story we love and fill in what these beloved characters continue to do, even after Breaking Dawn.

Because we did fall in love with a sparkly vampire, after all.

The author would like to thank
Emilie Fauve
Justine Lark
, and
for their contributions to this article.


  1. This is the most thorough canon article I have seen in the fandom.

    Very nice, Giselle.

  2. My favorite canon fic is the "missing moments." Once I had devoured all the books, this was the obvious next step for me. I've read many of the stories you've mentioned and I appreciate how staying in canon makes me love the Twilight characters more deeply. Canon fic has made me more devoted to the characters and I realized this when I saw the movie New Moon and Jasper had like 2 lines I was so upset. :) Staying in canon helps you to discover the wealth within already established characters.

    Anyway, thanks LYDF and Giselle for this post on canon. I'm still new to the fic world, but sometimes I feel like canon isn't very popular. I would be open to reading OCC/AH stuff, but I also wonder why you'd write about Edward, but have him be nothing like Edward at all?

    P.S. Justine Lark, I agree with thinking that SM writes Edward out of character sometimes. I've been thinking about the Edward in Breaking Dawn and he just feels very different from Twilight Edward - from the words he uses to the bland personality. However, SM created him, so I guess she can do what she wants!

    (I write under the name verseseven on FF)

  3. Fascinating article. I have not published any stories, yet, but I've found my small attempts at
    canon to be very challenging. It is so hard to get the details right and to keep the characters true.

  4. Excellent piece Giselle and TLYDF! So thorough and in-depth. You explanation of the challenges of writing canon and the finer nuances of the definition of canon was fantastic. Thank you so much for this insightful piece! Bravissimo!

  5. Wow, I can't thank you enough for this article. It's really tough writing canon in this fandom when you know something so un-canon is preferred.

    And thank you SO much for the rec. <3

  6. Grr. I knew that if I listed everyone who helped, I would forget someone. Sorry, dear. It was a last-minute idea and I'm brain-addled from Snowmaggedon 2010.

    Editorial correction: I am also grateful for the insightful commentary given me by scarlett71177. :) There are two installments, so I'll thank her better next time.

  7. Excellent classification of canon categories! I've come across at least one reader who felt canon meant the Cullens were vampires. I think your article really fills in some blanks. I'll be sure to refer people here.

    And thanks for the rec!

  8. Great insight on canon - from a wonderful canon writer. Thank you!

  9. Excellent job with this article - both in defining what constitutes canon and giving solid examples (and hey, there a couple of recs that are new to me, so bonus!). Looking forward to the second installment. Thanks!

  10. Couple things you may want to still touch on in the follow-up:

    -What is it called then when you change one small aspect of canon (say, leaving out said nameless baby?)

    -Has AH become its own category? Since AH doesn't apply in hardly any other fandom because the characters already ARE AH, putting them in any other "skin" makes those stories Alt Universe (perhaps Harry wasn't a sorcerer, but actually a college teacher, or Superman wasn't real at all but simply the manifestation of a schizophrenic, or Vincent from the Beauty and the Beast tunnels was actually a homeless man). In any other fandom, making the characters something else entirely is called AU.

    And finally, the concept of "fanon" where fanfic writers decide, as a collective whole, to make assumptions about canon. For instance, what if every writer suddenly started making minor references to Carlisle's past and saying that he was a psychologist for 5-10 years? And this little reference were to start popping up in lots of other stories as people accepted it as a credible possibility and just started assuming it was really real. (like the Cullen family crest, for example, which appears NOWHERE in the books) What if SM wasn't the person who brought it up? What if it was Catherine Hardwicke who mentioned it, perhaps in an interview and it was never in the movies? She would have created her own little bit of fanon!

    Which, now that I think about it, is it ONLY SM who can create canon? What about Catherine's dream sequence of Edward appearing in Bella's bedroom? Are the script-writers and directors now capable of creating canon? Twilight fanfiction can be listed as fiction from both the books AND the movies, so can the people who brought the story to live on the silver screen now capable of establishing canon?

    Considering that the franchise holders are very keen to cash in on this money cow, we can be sure that the potential for MORE canon being thrown at us in the form of additional twilight-vampire stories is a very real possibility.

    Can you say "Classic Twilight"?

  11. Thanks ever so for such a lucid exploration of a commonly mis-used concept. So much violence is done to SM's creation from beneath the all- enveloping cloak of 'canon' - by writers who apparently read a far, FAR different Saga than I did!
    There's plenty of room for all ships/styles/themes in our odd little world here, maybe some authorines hope to get more authority by claming canon? Who knows.
    The fandom has given us such richness! I confess that I now prefer FF to the real thing! The Saga volumns now sit on the 'reference book' shelf.

  12. Thank you for a fine, thorough, and lovely article on canon fics in our fandom.

    Also, I heart you sooooo much the Oxford dictionary reference. *smoooches*


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