Friday, March 5, 2010

GuestEssay: Canon Fodder Part 2 with giselle-lx

Canon Fodder: The What, Who, Why and How of Canon Twific: Part 2


When I tell people I write only
canon, I get one or both of two
incredulous responses:

“Why? Isn’t AH/AU easier?”


“How? There are so many restrictions!”

Well, the answers to both those questions are more than a little complex. Last time we met, I was pleased to take you on a tour of the What and the Who of canon Twific—but this time, let’s go a little further down the rabbit hole. I’ve enlisted the help of several intrepid canon writers in talking about the business of what it takes to color inside the lines.

Why Write Canon Anyway? Let’s face it. Yes, we might complain about Stephenie Meyer, and Breaking Dawn, and characterization this that and the other. But in the end, all of us are here because we opened those silly black books, read them cover-to-cover, and kept going. And then we were sufficiently interested to seek out more of the same. In the words of edward-bella-harry-ginny: "The canon story and characters are the backbone of what drew all of us in to fan fiction in the first place." Sometimes hating on Twilight and its canon in general seems to be nothing short of a professional sport around here, but the beauty of reading and writing good canon is that it has the potential to bring us back to the characters and the world that we all originally fell in love with.

Another great reason to stay in canon is that, well, let’s face it, the hating on the saga isn’t completely without merit. A lot was left out of these books, and a lot of characters and situations were left completely unexplored. Remember how at the end of Breaking Dawn, we all suddenly discovered that something had been brewing between Kate and Garrett while we were busy watching Bella be Super Vamp? The first evidence we get that there was anything there is right at the end of the book. Fortunately, one of HMonster4’s Fandom Gives Back auction winners forced her to write that story, and we got “Glaciers as a result. Our canon is absolutely full of moments like that, where Stephenie Meyer just barely hinted at a huge story. We got a lot of our beloved Edward and Bella, but a lot of other people went completely unexplored. Filling in these holes is pretty richly satisfying for author and reader alike.

Lastly, what about those characters themselves? Canon writing is an absolutely fascinating way to get to know them on a completely new level. To quote Scarlett71177:

Considering what other characters are thinking during pivotal (or even not so crucial moments is a fascinating character study. We always see the Cullens, Wolf Boys, or humans through Bella’s filter, but to cleanse that point of view and allow the true nature of the character to speak is an exciting moment—and a whole new perception of canon!

I won’t lie—I’ve been subject to this myself. In one of my fics, I started with the idea that I really wanted to explore how it was that the Cullens kept this careful subterfuge in the middle of the information age. I realized that the only way this would work would be to have one of the older Cullens talking to the newest Cullen and that meant I was—gulp—going to have to write Renesmee. As it turned out, however, Renesmee was a fascinating character when I saw her through the eyes of her “grandfather,” and my own perception of this crazy character I never wanted in the original saga was changed forever. So want to change your impression of a character? Try jumping into their shoes for a little while.

Canon writers will tell you there are a lot of richly rewarding parts of writing canon, and every one has a slightly different take on what it is that draws her to her canon task.

Scarlett71177, author of Watching Him Fold:

I love finding those little missing moments and wondering, “Hmm, what happened there?” Those moments are golden. Researching the canon to ensure you aren’t altering the future is really fun too.

BlondieAKARobin, author of Dark Side of the Moon:

Bella saw only part of the picture, and I love figuring out how what she saw or experienced can be twisted when seen from a different perspective. She’s a cool character, but her story’s been written—what about the others?

Gleena, author of The Cold War:

[Part of the fun] is playing with the characters—not versions of the characters in a new setting….T]here is the question of exactly how far can I take this?

How, Now?

So for the sake of my ego, I’m going to pretend that now that you’ve read the whys of canon Twific, you’re chomping at the bit to know the second half of that question—“giselle,” you’re saying, “unlock the mysteries! How do we do this amazing canon writing thing?” Well, the great thing is, it’s actually a lot easier and a lot more fun than it may look from the outside. Or I may be the world’s biggest geek. You can be the judge. But here are the keys of writing canon Twific, verified not only by me, but by a whole contingent of the canon writers…

The Canon

BlondieAKARobin, author of Dark Side of the Moon:

Read, read, read. Read all the books. Read Midnight Sun and all the outtakes and extras and FAQs posted on SM’s website. Read all the personal correspondence posted on twilightlexicon. Be very sure that what you’re reading is from SM and not another source. There’s a lot out there and it’s all really interesting, but if you’re going to write canon, you have to have your facts straight before anything else.

Critical part #1 is always your canon research. This starts with the books—know them backwards and forwards, and be ready to look things up. Many people who end up on twitter or chat with me know that they can ask me a canon question and chances are the answer will be, “I’m pretty sure I have a post-it note on the passage that would help with that.” Not only does this help with the writing, but it also helps with the story planning—inevitably, you’ll see holes open that are just begging for something to be written to explain them, be it a missing-moment, or a piece of missing backstory, or simply a character motivation that you feel needs shoring up.

That said, there are a LOT of ways to get good facility with the books without having to read them all cover-to-cover again. The easiest is the Twilight Lexicon, which provides summaries for each of the chapters of the four books. TL is the canon-writers’ bible and contains a huge amount of information culled directly from the books and from private correspondences and interviews with Stephenie Meyer. Want to know the floorplan of the Cullens’ house? It’s there. Background on the wolfpack? It’s there. The denomination of church that Angela’s father preaches in? It’s there. The Lex is a pretty easy place to get lost if you enjoy this kind of thing, but it’s also a one-stop-shop for finding a lot of information extremely quickly. It also contains a critical piece for anyone writing canon that overlaps the books—the timeline of events, starting from 2,000 B.C. and the birth of the Volturi.

A second place to look for help on canon research are the Twilighted Forums. You may have visited there before to talk about your favorite fics and, while there, noticed a section of forums called “Books.” Pop in there and post a question—chances are good you’ll get directed to the right information and perhaps even to a fic or two that discuss a similar issue. While you’re at it, don’t overlook the “Find a fic” forum—these can be a great place to get ideas to incorporate “fanon,” that is, fan-created “canon,” those backstories and explanations and little details that stem from fic and not from the canon but which can become part of the fandom’s knowledge of a character through repetition. See a cool idea that someone else came up with? Shoot them a PM and cite them in your fic.

The Characters


Know the stories, know the characters….Have fun, and don’t press something that doesn’t seem to fit in any situation or character.

Researching the characters can be a little less straightforward. How exactly do you give voice to, say, Alice, when all we have is a bit of her from Bella’s point of view, and a tiny bit from Edward’s and Jake’s? In this instance, it can be helpful to pick up on other authors’ treatments of the character both for things you want to incorporate and for things you might want to treat a little differently in your own version. Know the character’s backstory backwards and forwards, and be ready to think about the ways their history have shaped them as characters. I personally spend a LOT of time dwelling on what growing up in the seventeenth century as the motherless son of a zealous preacher would do to a person. Think about what kinds of mistakes the POV characters we have might be making with that character—is Edward’s assessment of Rosalie’s vanity actually accurate, or is there more behind the curtain? What is it about Emmett that makes him seem like a loveable goofball to Bella? Answering these questions goes a long way towards writing a piece centered on a canon character who wasn’t central to the original saga.

The Lexicon can be a great help here, too, as can some of the extras on Stephenie Meyer’s website. Planning to write Jacob? Check out Being Jacob Black, the definitive source from the author on all things Jake. Or try Gleena,’s route:

I re-read sections of the original saga to get each character’s “voice” in my head. Some voices are harder than others because there isn’t much original material on them (Carlisle’s internal monologue is hard, for example). These “blind spots” in the saga are perfect for a canon story which explores new territory.

Whatever route you take, it is potentially more important in canon to think about the characters than in other genres. In order to write a canon story that draws your reader in, you need to be able to both show her that the character is the same that she knows from canon, but also that the character has a side that only you can reveal.

The History

Where else can you throw together a 17th century witch-hunter, a civil war veteran, and a Yankee concert pianist?

Yes, I hear you. “Oh, give me a break, g. This isn’t school.” You’re very right. on the other hand, writing believable canon characters who range in age from sixteen to three millennia means that occasionally, you’re going to have to grapple with a little history. So this is why you’re going to get my quick and dirty guide to making it look like you know what you’re talking about when you dive into the varied histories of the canon characters.

Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a great source…for sources. Yes, go there to find out what they called a bar of soap in 1921 (“a cake”), and a brief history of the US railroad. But when you really want the goods? Don’t look at the article, look at the websites that article cites. Many times you’ll find links to museums, universities, historical societies—dozens and dozens of places to get the kind of everyday life details you need to believably portray the histories of your characters. Bonus: for those of you still in some level of school, this same technique works well for identifying credible web sources for papers.

Google Scholar. Google is awesome, but as Microsoft loves to point out, you get a lot of random results along with your good ones. Head over to Scholar to access real academic articles on whatever topic you’re searching for. Many times you’ll be able to find the information you need in an excerpt or abstract even if you can’t access the full article or book. For those of you with access to a university library, it gets even better—under Scholar Preferences you can set it to use your university’s library to access documents, and Scholar will highlight the articles your library can give you access to.

The Real Library. There’s a place where you can go to get things to read for free…and it’s not FFnet. Your actual library will give you access to a bunch of books on bizarre topics that you might need if you’re hoping to successfully pull off having been put in an asylum in the nineteen-tens. Now, I’m the kind of total dork who thinks a 200-page book like Popular Culture in Seventeenth Century England is great bedtime reading, but should you happen to be, well, more normal, I’ll let you in on a shortcut—try the children’s book section. You’ll often find the history drilled down for you in a fast, easy format. An added plus? The quirky factoids these books point out in order to be interesting to their young audiences are exactly the kinds of things that make a fic come to life.

Ready, Set, Go.

You’ve got your research. You’ve got your character. You’re ready to go. But before you set off, I throw the same question that gets slung at me back at you—why? What is it about this story, this character, this missing moment or extension, that makes what you’re going to write compelling? Once you know that, and have dive…you’re set for canon. If you’ll forgive me the pun, fire away.

The Gauntlet

So, what good is me telling you how to do this, if there’s no good opportunity to try it? Well, are you ready for a challenge? I, and other writers of canon, dare you. We want more canon in the fandom! On Saint Patrick’s Day, we’ll start accepting 1,500-8,000 word fics for the Canon Fodder Challenge. The only stipulation? We want NEW canon writers! You can’t have more than one canon fic posted already (and if you fall into this category—come help judge!). That’s right. Been waiting for the right chance to try your hand at some canon? This is it. We’d love to see you there. Good luck!


  1. Great tip about the children books. I definitely have the tendency to get weighed down on the obscure details that I think are cool, but...

    And children's books already have it all laid out. "What life was like in the days of..." I loved those books as a kid.

  2. You did a great job with this article, and you're too kind to mention some of my works. I must thank you for all the extra attention I got because of TLYDF. Thank you.

    I really love that you mentioned research and knowing the series in an out. Those details matter, and it's always nice to see an author who has paid attention to 'the little things.'

    Great job!


  3. Thank you for making the point that writing a worthwhile fic is actual work! The magic doesn't happen by...magic!

    Excellent observations/advice for all writers, regardless of which side of the canon line we prefer. <><3

  4. I was just linked to these via Lexicon and THANK YOU! I have written two full canon post-BD fanfics and I could not imagine writing an AU or AH. I feel as though canon fic writers get held to a different standard than others and are critiqued more. The readers go into the story expecting Stephenie Meyer's writing and if you can't pull that off it's just not going to work!


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