No, the title isn’t a typo, just another of my puns. Ever heard the old joke “Hark! I hear the cannon’s roar!” ? There’s a version of it here if you want to look, but I think I first remember hearing it from my dad.
Basically, an actor gets one of those “spear carrier” extra parts in a play where he has one and only one line that he’s responsible for saying: “Hark! I hear the cannon’s roar!” Nonetheless, he’s so excited that he rehearses and rehearses for his one big moment on the stage. The moment of truth finally comes and his cue sounds in the form of the booming gun, and he shouts out…
“What the HELL was that?!”
Call it a pre-Internet version of the You Had One Job meme. Now a writer of fiction might seem like they have one job, but it sure feels more complicated than that by the time you’ve (hopefully) put together some coherent characters and told a coherent story, and especially if you happened to be doing some worldbuilding along the way. As a byproduct you have now established a canon, a “Word of God” of sorts instructing what is and isn’t part of your little corner of reality… appropriate enough I suppose since the term was first used in regards to Biblical scripture.
Once a canon gets rolling, it can make quite a roar, and if violated, the contradictions can certainly lead to shouts of “What the HELL was that?!” After all, the whole point of canon is to lay the groundwork for continuity, and without continuity your story is going to just be a random mess. It’s a frustrating situation that often crops up in longstanding properties where multiple authors are involved and no single creator is guiding the direction (or maybe there was, but now they’ve retired, been fired, or died).
But it can happen even in a single author situation with the original creator. Or someone who gets it in their head that they were a single author, like the utter trainwreck that happened with the Star Wars prequels. Prequels as a rule are already much rougher to work with in a canon sense because the butterfly effect of everything that happens in them has to be considered as being able to logically blossom into a specific present that we’ve already experienced. There’s a lot to think about and be careful with, both for your sake and the sake of your fans. It’s not easy. The quicker, easier path would be to just ignore everything inconvenient and answer anyone who complains with, “I made these rules, so I get to break them. End of story”.
I feel queasy at the thought of using that justification myself, so I find it very frustrating when another author does it in a cavalier way. The Twilight series had another example where Stephenie Meyer made a plot point of saying newly made vampires are dangerously out of control, and then a certain newly made vampire is fine and perfect from the get go because… well… it’s never really explained. It’s just done, because that’s what she wanted to write.
I mean, not to say there aren’t authors/creators who I have much more respect for that have done such things. There’s the concept of Broad Strokes. There’s the ever looming fear that this has already happened in my own work, or inevitably will in the future as canon piles atop canon and one day I’ll find I’ve written myself into a prison whose only escape will be me just snapping my fingers and causing the bars to become spaghetti. What the HELL was that?!
But gah, I do try, even with the challenge of Dawn occasionally throwing some continuity curveball into the artwork which she’s fine and dandy with but I feel a compulsive need to justify, even if I may be the only person who ever notices. I do get a certain thrill out of getting called to task in the comments at times if it happens to be on a subject that I’ve thought through, even if my answers have to remain cryptic for the time being. For one thing, being called to task at all at least indicates people out there are paying attention and having some investment in the story. If I ever did succeed to a much bigger audience, perhaps everything would blur and I’d eventually just get tired of fielding the same complaints or questions over and over, and I’d start seeing the fans as more obstacles and adversaries than fellow travelers, and perhaps even reach that breaking point where I just start messing with things because I can and damn your ungrateful hides.
For now, I still feel like I call myself to task first and foremost… and while I work to build upon what’s already established for Zombie Ranch, typing up the pages to come, I still hearken to hear that canon’s roar.