I wrote fanfiction privately for years. I really didn’t fully comprehend the scope of fandom until the late 90s. The Internet exposed me to a profound cultural experience, the likes of which I didn’t know was possible. In a way, fandom saved the writer in me. It gave me a creative space that I would be hard-pressed to duplicate in any single way.
Fandom gave me the very best group of friends I’ve had in my life. On the podcast, I’ve often said that I actively cultivate “writer friends,” but there was a time in my life where that meant writing groups in meat space that were highly competitive and ultimately toxic, each in their own way. A writing group geared toward professional publication can be a cutthroat environment where it can become difficult to express your ideas and concepts for fear that another person in the group will write the idea out from underneath you and sell it. I’ve seen that happen—it’s happened to me. I maintain that I could’ve written it 10 times better if I’d been deeply invested in the idea.
One of the more interesting parts of fandom culture is the concept of head canon. It’s easy to see how one author’s head canon can invade and conquer another through no real fault of their own. Sometimes, we stumble across an idea or a full-blown concept that takes over our head canon and, suddenly, you and every fandom writer you know is pretty damn convinced that Hobbits grow their babies in the ground, and it makes all the sense in the world.
Head canon can change and grow (and it should). Sometimes, your head canon can shift mid-project, and you’re left floundering to keep up with the, often, subconscious concepts that change the way you look at characters, their circumstances, and their relationships with others within their own world. One of the most dangerous things you can do is go read in the fandom you’re actively writing in. The second most dangerous thing is to leap headfirst into a fandom you don’t know and stumble across a work that is so pervasive that it shapes your head canon forevermore.
Sometimes one person’s head canon will become a living, fire-breathing trope in a fandom—it can happen in a day in the right circumstances. We’ve seen it happen with tropes like A/B/O and Cabbage Patch Babies. I’ve read many Cabbage Patch baby fics in The Hobbit but, Flowers for Yavanna by SOABA basically ruined me and really shaped how I felt about writing a Rule63 Bilbo and the whole baby garden thing. I’ll never be the same on The Hobbit front. And I regret nothing.
I got bored with myself one night—my Sims game kept crashing (because I had 19g of custom content in it, and Sims 1 was beastly about that sort of thing). I’d been watching Stargate for a while and had even written some short stories that will certainly never see the light of day. I was especially enamored with Stargate: Atlantis. It’ll always be my home fandom, and I’m looking forward to getting comfortable there for NaNoWriMo this year.
Due to boredom, I ended up on FanFiction.net. I’m pretty sure that every single person I know in fandom could say that, and it would be true. An idle mind is far more dangerous than a pair of idle hands, in my opinion. Well, after I explored the pit—I stumbled across LiveJournal communities. I started writing then I posted. I read some more. Posted again. Read some more. I was trying to find my place in fandom, and really I was on the search for an OTP. I didn’t even know what that was at the time.
Then, I stumbled across a story called Time in a Bottle by Astolat, and my head canon bloomed in response. How I perceived John Sheppard and Rodney McKay individually and as a pairing was irrevocably changed. A whole world opened up in my mind, and I started to write differently. Eventually, I would stumble my way through fandom and hit upon The Sentinel. Quickly, I became enamored with the Sentinels/Guides Are Known trope. And when I started to find works that crossed The Sentinel with Stargate: Atlantis, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot, but there was something fundamentally disconcerting about the stories I was reading.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the works I was reading at the time. They were beautifully written—craft, characterization, and S/G concepts 100% on point—but every single story I read had Rodney McKay as the Sentinel, and that was in deep conflict with my own head canon. To me, then and now, John Sheppard is a Sentinel, and if I’m on team McShep (and I am), that means Rodney is a Guide. My head canon was straight-up ruining my fun times.
Then, I started searching for what I wanted to read and, at the time, there wasn’t much. I did find exactly what I wanted to read with The Unlikely and Unwilling by Ladyholder. (Aside, it would be literally months before I realized the person I’d made a beta connection with on a Yahoo group was the same person who was posting a story on Wraithbait that I was devouring. One day, I went over there to read and finally took note of the author’s name—blush.)
To say that Ladyholder helped define my head canon around the concept of John Sheppard as a Sentinel would be an understatement since her work directly inspired The Sentinels of Atlantis.
In the end, I think that characterization is the most fluid concept regarding head canon. A great story can influence you, destroy you, and remake you. That’s the true beauty of the fiction narrative—no matter how you react—if the author has done their job, you walk away from their story just a little bit different. Not every story you read will be the source of a life-altering epiphany; that would be too much to ask, but sometimes even 500 words can change your entire perspective regarding a character or a canon event.
One of the more amusing parts of my own Stargate: Atlantis head canon is the younger brother I gave John Sheppard (Matt). There are readers on my site who’ve never watched Stargate: Atlantis and have no idea that Matt Sheppard is an original character. That’s the power—both seductive and destructive—of a well-formed head canon. Matt Sheppard moves through my Stargate works easily because I worked hard at it. The end result—I’ve infected more than one writer with that very attractive piece of head canon.
Sorry, there’s no cure.