Neil Gaiman is a fantastic writer. He’s invented whole worlds that are uniquely his own, with a style and form that defies comparison to any other author. However, he’s also a master of writing excellent stories within the context of other people’s universes. He’s written for Babylon 5, the Marvel Comics universe, and – my personal favorite – Doctor Who. You can read an excellent article discussing just that here;
Which brings me to my topic for the day. This is one that’s bothered me on several levels, but I’ve not seen many discussions about it. So here goes, into the tangled mire of my mind.
What, really and truly, is the difference between a story that I might write in the Doctor Who universe and a story Neil Gaiman writes? Another way of stating the question would be this: Where is the line between so-called ‘fanfiction’ and a more canon or accepted story.
Take My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic as an example. If you aren’t aware of the phenomenon occurring around this children’s show right now, please take a moment to look it up here. -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Little_Pony:_Friendship_Is_Magic
A quick Google search turns up thousands upon thousands of fanfiction stories written about this children’s television series. And if we go beyond the written word, a YouTube search turns up 465,000 videos, many of which are fan-produced. So, lots of people love this show and devote heaps of time to that love by writing stories and making videos. But none of this would be considered canon; none of it would be official.
So when does it become official? Of course, if you’re a writer (famous or not) and you are directly hired by the production team of a TV show, then that would presumably be a canon story. But what if you’re a writer (let’s assume famous) and you write your own story for an existing universe. Let’s assume that you’re careful to stay in the official universe (you don’t give The Doctor a second head, for example). Can this be considered a canon story?
This question first started to bug me when I read the very excellent Thrawn series of Star Wars books back in the early ’90’s. They are not, technically, official canon. However, Star Wars has something called the Expanded Universe, which is stuff that George Lucas didn’t write about, and didn’t forbid others to write about, within the framework of his six movies. Characters and settings that appeared in those movies, or that could be understood to exist were fair game. People wrote many stories about the Hutt crime family, for example. And characters and settings that weren’t known to exist from the movies, but didn’t contradict them, were also written about. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a perfect example of this.
So if Lucas doesn’t officially approve, but he and his people (and now, I guess, Disney’s people) didn’t officially deny, then it’s canon, right? And for fans, what if there’s something in the Expanded Universe that we really hate. Are we free to just ignore it?
The reason I ask this question now, in a public forum, is primarily because I have several worlds I’ve developed myself, and if I am able to get stories published in those worlds, I would be thrilled to have other writers explore those worlds with me. It would be a dream for an established writer to pick up a book I’ve written and say “I’ve got an idea for this…” and write a cracking story.
For me, storytelling is and always will be a group activity. My roots for storytelling are grounded firmly in role-playing games. The old kind, you know, at a table, with paper and pencils. Most of my game settings were born at a gaming table as I told stories both to my friends and with my friends. I don’t want that to end as I build a career as a writer. I want to see how others see the worlds I’ve spent so long building.
In short, dear readers, I want to tell my stories with you, yes you. Because at the end of the day, I have some pretty good ideas, but I will never have all the good ideas. Come with me, and let’s tell some lies together, shall we?