Expansion Pack: Canon

Hi Gang. Craig with you again today, and I have an idea for three different, but related topics. These are extras to the writing game, so I’m bringing them to you as part of my Expansion Pack posts.

We’ll have a post on Canon, One Upmanship, and Prequels. Let’s spin the dial and we land upon… Canon.

No matter how you plan your stories, in your head, on a storyboard, or a detailed plot, the minute you start writing, you’re actually building fences. They’re present, even if you don’t realize it. Your job is to live within the fences you’ve built.

In a simple explanation, you can’t have your character suffering from the long term effect of a car crash, then decide it would be cooler to have him be a disabled veteran in chapter seven. The only way to do this is to go back and change the earlier chapters to keep with canon.

Unfortunately, this kind of problem isn’t usually that simple. It becomes particularly maddening when you write a series. The longer it gets, the more fences you’re going to have built. Readers are pretty smart, and you’re not going to pull the wool over their eyes, and if they’re fans they’re even sharper.

Let’s pick on Star Wars like I so often do. Anakin Skywalker is the strongest person with The Force there is, and likely ever will be. In a reflection of the virgin birth, he was conceived by The Force itself. When he becomes Darth Vader, it makes for a wonderful antagonist.

Somewhere in the original trilogy we get a sense those who are Force sensitive can detect others. Luke even says, “I shouldn’t have come. I’m jeopardizing the mission.” Meaning Darth Vader could detect him from quite some distance across space.

In The Mandalorian, baby Yoda plops down on some kind of mystical broadcasting site to search for the Jedi to come train him. He and the Mandalorian then traveled a couple billion miles across space. Somehow, Luke Skywalker flies directly to him to take him for training. The Force is powerful stuff indeed.

In the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series, Darth Vader (Virgin birth, uber powerful) winds up standing less than 100 feet from his own daughter who is also force sensitive, but he doesn’t even detect her. I’m feeling a break from canon here.

You can’t just toss aside something you’ve built because the plot demands it. It might be convenient for you, but readers could pick up on it. Fans will for sure, and you want fans.

If you haven’t published your work, no problem, you can back up and edit. If you have published part of your series, you may have to take a beer day or three and think your way through this story problem. I have faith in you, and sometimes it takes a while to find a solution.

Stories about time travel are rife with this kind of thing. When everything goes wrong, why not just set the clock once more then try it again? This is often the place when brand new rules come into play, like only being able to visit that timeline once. It’s jarring to be that deep into a story, then learn a major rule that didn’t seem pertinent in earlier chapters.

Hermione Granger owns a time-turner. She and Harry Potter use it to keep Sirius Black out of wizard prison, and save the hippogriff. Tons of fun. (This is where my posts start blending together, but I’ll try to stick with canon today. There are similarities to the upcoming post on One Upmanship.)

Since this wonderful device exists, why didn’t they use it every time Voldemort made advances in the larger plot? Might have saved Dumbledore, one of the Weasley twins, Professor Lupin, etc.

Time to wrap this one up. Don’t be afraid to build those fences as you write. Just be prepared to live within the boundaries you established in your world.

Talk to me in the comments. If I can remember, I’ll include back links when I post the other two, because they all relate in some small way.

69 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: Canon

  1. Pingback: Expansion Pack: One Upmanship | Story Empire

  2. You are so right about those small important details that need to be followed through the entire series or story, Craig. I do catch these little things and luckily can get past it, usually. You used good examples to show this issue. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Craig! It is quite frustrating to believe something to be a hard truth in a series only to have the author decide to File 13 it in the middle of the series. I’m good with bending reality for a story, but keep it consistent. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Craig, what you had said here is exactly write and that is why we have to go back and forth in our stories. When I write historical novels, I write to a timeline and my protagonist has to stay with the real life timeline. If it is a war story, he has to stay within his particular company and battalion’s real story outline. I had to re-write and change parts of A Ghost and His Gold for this reason. WRT the time turner, I haven’t read those books for years, but I do recall there were rules around the usage of that particular item and you couldn’t use it to change the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post, Craig. I always learn a lot from your magic. Having written a series, I’ve found the pitfalls, and if I were to write one again, I’d follow D. Wallace Peach’s advice. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your posts are always educational, Craig. This one is no exception. Fantastic points made. I outline my stories, so if there arises any of the issues you’ve mentioned, I am able to go back and fix them while writing. But I’ve never written a series, so I’m thinking that’s where many writers stumble across these things. The Star Wars issue is quite telling. I saw the original three films in the 70s and 80s. Not a big fan, though they were entertaining. You’d think a big franchise like that would close all of those potential trap doors.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good one, Craig. Time travel, Prime Directive, how magic works… All things that the author has to decide and stay within what’s established — or set something up to explain why this is different, I suppose.

    As for Hermione, I believe she gave the time turner back to Professor McGonnigal at the end of that book. A major device like that is probably secured somewhere in Hogwarts, so the kids couldn’t easily fetch it back. Or, the Ministry of Magic confiscated it when Umbridge was headmistress.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think it’s easy to mess up things like this. I can be so focused on moving the story at the time, it’s easy to overlook something like being able to feel the Force when your daughter’s close by. Actually, it’s easy to forget simple things like eye color or a scar unless I write it down. This was a great reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Craig. It is so important to keep within the fence you’ve created. For me, the best way is a notebook a page for each character and definitions of the things I’ve created. This helps to keep me on the correct path, and it does work most times. You still need to read and make sure you haven’t jumped the fence. You are right, someone will be there to point it out. You can’t change what your rules are just because you need to advance your plot.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is exactly why I write an entire trilogy before I publish the first book. For me, those fences need adjustment way back to the beginning to make sure they all line up by the end. I can’t imagine the challenges faced when writing a long spec-fiction series, Craig, but lots of writers do it and do it well. And great examples of movie-series where these kinds of problems come up. Someone on the set is throwing up his hands and hoping fans won’t notice.

    Liked by 2 people

      • It requires patience, Craig, but I’m still committed to doing it that way. One thing I’ve also noticed about a quick release of a trilogy is that if the second book is available when readers finish the first, they’ll pick it up versus moving on to other books (and possibly forgetting).

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Superb post, Craig. I’ve never heard the term “Canon” in this context, but I know what you mean. Staying within fences is vitally important. The only way to get around them is to create a workaround that makes sense, but the breadcrumbs must already be planted in early books (whether intentional or not). Whenever I’m planning the next book in a series I mine earlier books for those breadcrumbs.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hmmm. Having written no novels (or novellas) that weren’t part of a series, now I’m worried. ( Gee, thanks Craig! 😁) I know my characters pretty well, but it would sure have been easy to have a few broken fences or missing gates here or there. Guess it’s time for a reread with an eye for things that don’t quite line up like they should. Great post, even if it is making me think extra hard this morning. Perhaps it’s time for me to switch to stand-alone books, where there fewer opportunities to screw up! 😂

    Seriously, this is something I’ve never even considered before, but I’m taking notes and will be very aware of this going forward. Thanks for the great examples, too! Sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You make some great points here, Craig. In writing a series, it’s easy to forget what a character in book one did for a living. I like how you compare it to building fences. When I wrote the true story series, it was easy because it all happened. But writing a fiction series is totally different and more challenging. Thank you for sharing this! It is helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Excellent points and examples, Craig. I find pre-planning helps, but because of how I adapt my outlines, there are always things that run the risk of violating canon. Careful rereading is critical. Not publishing until the entire series is done also helps. Looking forward to your next-in-series post.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. My daughter tells me that they had to re-jig some of the early Stranger Things episodes to accommodate things in series 4 – so if you don’t have a recording of the original, what you’re seeing now is slightly different but you probably won’t notice. It does take you out of the moment when something jars with what you remember from earlier. I’ve only written one-offs and that still poses ‘fence’ issues at times; I can only begin to imagine the complexity of planning through a series. Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Canon | Jeanne Owens, author

  17. You make an excellent point, Craig. I like how you defined it as building fences. Often we can fence ourselves in. When I wrote the Driscoll Lake Series, I had a minor character in the first book with a specific occupation. She was only in one scene, not even any dialogue. When I got to book three, I wished I’d given her another occupation. I managed to work around it, but writing an entire series before publishing has its advantages.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Yes, I understand the problem, Craig. It seems, to me, at least, to come largely with series. I have that problem with my current WIP. One character, in this one, has to become a traitor, but in other books, there’s no way she would do so. I couldn’t go back to the published 3 books and make a myriad changes. What to do? I made a threat to her daughter (and husband) who would at least suffer, if not die, unless she complied. I hope that will satisfy readers.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Canon | Legends of Windemere

  20. This is what I have the most trouble with, even with extensive character files, mistakes still happen. I seem to spend a lot of time searching (thanks to Word and theIr wonderful FIND) to keep on track. And I have been forced to give up on books and films that insist on twisting everything until it hurts…

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  21. Consistency is what readers expect – and should.

    The time travel ones are getting to be too much – we’re deciding whether to even continue watching The Shining Girls (Elizabeth Moss) because it’s getting too much to try to figure out the twists. I assume they know what they’re doing, but we don’t, and just one big reveal at the end is going to lead to questioning – or giving up. It’s hard to imagine they can tie all the threads together in a logical tapestry.

    A little is fine, but not this complicated.

    For my record, I’m fine not having any more dual timeline books, TV shows, or movies any more.

    Liked by 2 people

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