Canon Fodder: Ah, the joys of writing for a 'living' series...

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Title: Canon Fodder: Ah, the joys of writing for a 'living' series...
Date(s): July 12, 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: many
External Links: online here, Archived version
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Other Essays by ljc

Canon Fodder: Ah, the joys of writing for a 'living' series... is an essay by LJC.

One subject: being jossed (though that word is not used).


Once upon a time, I only wrote fan fiction for "dead" (i.e. cancelled) television series. This was back in the Palaeolithic era, when we communicated via smoke signals and stagecoach. That is to say, when print fanzines were the only way you got fiction, and they came out once a year at MediaWest or some other convention. This was back when e-mail was something only students, librarians, and government employees seemed to have, and the earth's crust had not fully cooled. My life was simple, then. Easier by far. You fell in love with a show, you watched all of it, you took notes, you got ideas, you wrote them down, taking great care that what you wrote fit seamlessly into the series canon.
When you wrote for a series that had finished its run, you didn't hold your breath with each new episode, waiting to see if it would blow your story apart. This is something that comes with writing for a 'living' series, i.e., one that is still in production. There is a level of "acceptable risk" that authors and readers are familiar with and by their very nature must take into account, when it comes to fiction written while a show is still on the air. And this isn't exclusive to fan fiction--the pros have the same problems, pitching tie-in novels. However, they have one benefit that the rest of us poor fan folks cut off from the insiders don't have: the Powers That Be will generally let a professional tie-in author know if the story they're pitching is close to or will be rendered apocryphal by an upcoming script.
However, the immediacy of the internet has changed all that. As the volume of fan fiction has increased a hundred-fold, the timing has become crucial, and stories are literally being turned out so fast that something written after the first episode is suddenly "alternate universe" by the sixth. It's become so common as to be the norm in many on-line fandoms. The current generation of fan readers and writers often don't bat an eyelash, because that's the familiar, comfortable world they know. Of course, we dinosaurs tend to open a story and if the disclaimer reads something like "Alternate Universe that picks up after episode four, where Doyle never died, and Cordelia and Doyle have been dating for a year and Riley never happened, etc." we tend to drop it like some kind of diseased fruit crawling with maggots. But hey, that's just a brontosaurus talking... And maybe a couple of early primates. And I think I see some Classic Trek fans crawling out of the primordial ooze over there who are nodding their heads at me... You get the picture.