Reality By Consensus: The difference between canon and fanon

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Title: Reality By Consensus: The difference between canon and fanon
Creator:
Date(s): February 4, 2002
Medium: online
Fandom: many
Topic: fanon
External Links: Reality By Consensus: The difference between canon and fanon, Archived version (at website)
at FF.net
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Contents

Other Essays by ljc

Reality By Consensus: The difference between canon and fanon is an essay by LJC.

Excerpts

Once upon a time, the Communications Officer of the starship Enterprise was Lt. Penda Uhura.

What? I hear you say, Since when? Isn't Uhura's name "Nyota?" What kind of crack are you on?

Ah, but it might surprise you to learn that Star Trek's Uhura does not have a canonical given name. Although the professional novels have used Nyota for decades, and fanzines and websites across the globe continue to call her Nyota, Nyota Penda, and Penda, as they have done since the birth of Trek fan fiction in the early 1970s, the names Nyota and Penda are what we in the 'fic world call "fan-canon" or "fanon."

"Fanon" is what happens when an author accepts another fan author's speculation as fact, and that "fact" spreads from author to author until it becomes commonplace in fan fiction, its origins no longer noted or in most cases even known. Sound familiar? It should; it happens all the time. An author sits down to write a story and says "So-and-so needs a name. And a backstory." So she writes it. Sends it off to a fanzine, or posts it to a newsgroup or publishes it to a website. People read it, and think "Oh, I like that. That works." and begin—consciously, or unconsciously— working that story into their mental picture of the character or the series. If they write, it may find its way into their own fiction. If they read, they keep it in the back of their minds as they read other stories. It takes on a life on its own, and down the line, the new fan comes into the fandom and finds the same facts and situations cropping up in stories all over the fandom, and takes them to be a canonical part of that universe. Poof! Presto! fan canon.
Writing fan fiction based on other fan fiction results in stories that distance fan fiction even further from the source material, not unlike a xerox copy of a xerox copy. After time, the crisp clean lines of the original are completely blurred and the picture many not even resemble the source any longer. And there is a hidden danger: if a reader believes, due to fanon, that a character would react a particular way to a situation or stimuli, or has a backstory that conflicts with what you have written, then the writer can be hit with backlash despite the fact that the story in question adheres to series canon. In some worlds, fanon is considered more valid to the readers than canon, consciously or unconsciously. And from this kind of attack, there is no defence. How can there be, when the attack itself is not base on logic, but emotion? The fact of the matter is, fanon can become a very dangerous animal when any group of readers and writers reach reality by consensus. Fanon is neither all good or all bad. After all, why write fan fiction, except to flesh out existing characters and situations? This is one of the major motivations of every writer, and the more fiction a writer writes in a particular fandom, the richer and more detailed her or his personal universe. There is no bad there. But it's important to know the difference between canon and fanon and to be aware of when you're relying on fanon which may rely on specifics that your reader cannot access.