Musings on Lore, Canon and History in Fiction
- by Ninja Ross, 22 January 2013
I recently reviewed a Sci-Fi book called “Nexus” and one of my criticisms was about the world building. The lore. It was out of place and didn’t blend in. I also had a conversation with a writer and artist called @Djwaglmuffin on Twitter. The conversation concerned the use of Folklore and the creation of it. Points like “It doesn't have to be *that* precise does it?“, "some lore changes with region and depending on who's telling. Like djinn, for instance.” were brought up.
Both of these incidents got me thinking, which is probably not a good thing. What is lore? When does lore become history? What’s up with canon? What exactly do writers need to know about these things?
Now I’m no fancy English or history professor or nothin’ and I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the real mechanics but I do know enough to get by. I’ve written fiction and I’ve studied enough fictional and factual lore to write this here article.
Lore is basically a collection of stories, jokes, songs, etc, that become bigger than the person who starts them and even the people who repeat them. So, Werewolves, Vampires and Djinn are all products of stories and legends written and told by cultures all over the world. We know that the mythical creatures we use in fiction have different types from different parts of the world with different origins. This is not uncommon. Every culture tends to have their own devils, monsters and so on.
But writing lore for a fictional universe... THAT’S where things can become complicated.
Unlike the folklore of the many different cultures in the world (past and present), fiction lore set in a fictional universe tends to be written by a single person or, at best a small group of people. If a universe does take off, hundreds of creators can add to it. The Star Wars Universe, for example.
But, on the other hand, it CAN be more interesting. You have full control of what’s revealed, who says what - pretty much every word in that universe is yours.
But in order to create a vast, realistic universe you’re gonna need to fill up those fictional history books. In order to do this you’re gonna have to start out by using real blank books. You could probably use Word Processor but, personally, I find that keeping notes on a computer can be a pain. That’s for the final draft.
You’re probably gonna fill up a whole mess of note books with notes, ideas and such things just writing the main plot of a story but if you’re trying to give your universe a rich history and varied cultures, you’re gonna need to cut down a forest. You want to create a new race for your universe? You’re gonna destroy SO many trees. So, plant a few. Be green.
The Reapers in Mass Effect are a lot more threatening BEFORE you meet them. Same with The Collectors.
But the history obviously needs to keep the details. Again, let’s look at the Mass Effect series.
Mass Effect: Deception, a novel written by William C. Dietz, was released in January 2012 and was received with a lot of negativity. Some of it a little hostile. Was it because oif bad writing? No, Dietz is one of the most respected video game tie-in writers working right now.
The problem was the numerous errors in the lore and history of the universe it’s set in. We’re not talking about planets being in the wrong place here. We’re talking about statistics being wrong, the description of clothes. The year the Citadel was attacked was wrong.
These things matter to fans. They signed a petition demanding that this book be declared non canon (not in continuity) and Bioware released a statement to say they were going to change all of the errors. These things matter so much that there’s a video on Youtube of a guy burning the book.
Speaking of the fans. These are your fact checkers. While you’re writing the story and everything that goes into this universe you’re creating, you and those you allow to read your drafts are responsible for keeping that in order. But after you release it, there’s the very real chance you could gain a big fan base. Any fan base is good but if you get a big one? You better not screw this up.
They will hunt you down. This is not a bad thing. These people are passionate about YOUR work and all they want it to keep the universe as real as possible. So they’ll write fan fictions, Wiki entries and they’ll dissect every bit of information you throw at them.
Also, this is where keeping some stuff vague really becomes fun. As I mentioned before, fans write fan fiction and they love to add to your universe. They’ll try their best to guess what happened in stories you barely even hinted at. This makes writing lore, canon and history for a world you’re building from scratch a double edged sword. It’s rewarding and fun but it’s also a pain.
So, that’s a fair bit of writing, isn’t it? I normally keep them short and sweet. So what have we learned? Lore, canon and history are vital for world building in fiction. Fans are harsh yet accurate and fun. Paper is made of trees. Also, all of these things (except the paper one) combine to make a universe with canon (continuity, scripture) that is important to both you and fans.
I’d like to end this by saying “I am the lore!!!” because I couldn’t find anywhere else to put that and I just finished re-watching DREDD...
Umm yes... Thank you, Ross! And where do YOU stand on all this, Trash Mutant Reader? As usual, let us know in the comments! And if you'd like something cool to look at, you can check out DJWaglmuffin’s webcomic, too!