# Canonicity I read [this story](http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5389450/) recently. It ticked all the boxes: sci-fi speculation on the nature of reality, delivering an interesting point in a handful of pages, by a writer I'm already something of a fan of. And yet there was something deeply unsatisfying about it. Mostly, I think, it's the treatment of the characters. Most seem to stand around waiting meekly for their turn to speak, and it's impossible to imagine e.g. Haruhi doing this. A story with this many characters is already borderline unworkable, but this many *main* characters is simply impossible. A main character needs to be talkative (Kyon), or else active and kind of dumb (Haruhi); in *The Rivan Codex* David Eddings explains that he wrote Belgarath as stupid (though powerful) quite deliberately, so that it would make sense for other characters to explain things to him. Taniguchi or Kunikida would make for a very boring show (Tom Stoppard notwithstanding); even more developed supporting characters like Tsuruya or Emiri Kimidori have a very distinct role in the story. Could Tsurya substitute for Haruhi? No; she's active enough when participating with the clup, but satisfied enough with her (high-class) life that she'd never initiate a club like Haruhi, and we'd lose the whole overarching plot. Could Emiri substitute for Yuki? Maybe; they're very similar characters by construction, and I can imagine her undergoing a similar interaction with Kyon. But without Yuki's bookish tendencies the show would lose something - and certainly neither interface could substitute for any of the other four brigade members. Ok, so characters have to stick to appropriate roles. Could we make an interesting crossover by substituting characters but keeping their roles intact? Could we write an interesting story about Kirk, Bones, and Yuki Nagato? Well, maybe. But immediately we see problems. Yuki is smart, scientifically minded, has difficulty displaying emotion, and gets her crew out of trouble most of the time. She even has to balance her human friendships with her alien heritage. But she's not someone who would argue with her captain. She's not faced with mistrust and discrimination from her crewmates. In the initial meeting it might be interesting to see all parties react to this, but to do anything productive we'd have to shift Kirk and McCoy's personalities after a couple of pages - or else change hers. As much as we talk about "character development", our most beloved characters seem permanently locked in particular attitudes to their compatriots; the best development reveals new facets to an existing character, but doesn't transform them completely. Occasionally some new development really does change the characters' relationships or personalities, as with the end of *Macross Plus*, or of *The Collector*, or the most famous (infamous) scene in *Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise*. But those particular examples are effective and memorable because they are central to the works in question (and it's worth noting that all are relatively short pieces); the plot and characterizations are designed around that moment of realization, with every moment before then carefully structured according to what it means both before and after the revelation. Which I think is ultimately my problem with fanfiction in general. Character, setting and plot do not exist in isolation; they belong to each other, and in the best works all three are developed in parallel. This is why *Starship Operators* is still in my top-10 anime list, despite its obscurity and unpopularity: it knows exactly the story it wants to tell, and not one motion is wasted. It's 13 episodes that fit together like facets of a jewel, and to take those characters or that setting and use them for something else would be sacrelige. Of course, the "fan community" doesn't have a monopoly on such foolishness. Some of my snobbier friends like to use "fanfic Doctor Who" to refer to the 2005 revival series. Personally, I tend to assume any TV series of more than five seasons has already lost all coherence. It must be said that this seems to be a particular problem with American shows; the British seem more willing to draw a line under a show, even a beloved one, after about 24 episodes (with the exception of a few specials). In the ("mainstream") comic book world things are far worse; I understand that approximately all DC comics are considered to be in-continuity with each other, and even more so for Marvel. Now add in several officially sanctioned crossovers, both between these two universes and with others, and remember that even events designed specifically to reset continuity come with characters able to find their way around them... yeah. For every well-regarded tying-up-of-loose-ends that occasionally gets put together, it's usually a matter of months until another writer reverses it, or comes up with something even more egregious. In fact in many ways the ("mainstream") comic world is itself a form of fanfiction. Most writers are working with someone else's chraacters, in an ongoing shared setting, and publishing their stories in serial form, extended until they stop selling rather than towards any particular narrative endpoint. In fact, disproportionately many especially well-regarded comics seem to relax their involvement with the wider continuity. *Watchmen* was initially intended to use some existing characters, but changed to its own continuity precisely because the story Moore wanted to tell was incompatible with the wider universe. *The Dark Knight Returns* was a Batman story, but a noticably different Batman, explicitly out-of-continuity with the rest of the universe. *Sandman* is technically in-continuity with the rest of the "DC Universe", but this seems more a matter of marketing than actually containing any cross-over content. While I can't say which more recent works will be looked back on as classics, critical focus seems to be on independent (or pseudo-independent, i.e. Vertigo), non-superhero series with their own settings and continuities. My tastes are not universal. There must be people who like these large, overlapping continuities - if only because *someone* must be keeping Marvel in business. Heck, the "Avengers" concept and continuity appears to have been well received by cinema audiences (though I must say that a cycle of six films is comfortably within my five-season limit - I'll go on record as predicting the franchise will be run into the ground in the next few years). There is evidently a group of people that enjoys fanfiction. And I will admit to appreciating the *Battlestar Galactica* remake (though it ended correctly at five seasons, and the attempted spin-off *Caprica* rather proves my point), and looking forward somewhat to a new *Blake's 7* should that project ever get off the ground. But in general my favourite things - *The City & The City*, *The Prestige*, *Puella Magi Madoka☆Magica*, *Veronica Mars* - are relatively small and self-contained - in the last two cases I'm feverently hoping the forthcoming movies won't derail them. Indeed, my favourite piece of supposed fanfiction - *Sailor Nothing* - is, in an important sense, not fanfiction at all. And even something like *Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality*, while notionally reusing an existing plot, setting and characters, is unafraid to mess with all three where necessary for the story that it wants to tell. The one major mainstream success of fanfiction, if such it can be called, is *50 Shades of Grey* - a work that, while initially built on the scaffold of existing characters, eventually claimed an original setting and characters - and while I can't say for sure that the move enhanced the work, it certainly doesn't seem to have hurt it. In fact, the clearest illustration is perhaps the simplest: any work of fanfiction is, almost inherently, an unplanned sequel to the original from which it derives. And while there are exceptions, we know what the quality of sequels tends to be like. [Home](/) <div id="disqus_thread"></div> comments powered by Disqus