Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Worldcon Treasures: Canon Formation: How Do We Decide What Becomes a “Classic”?

Who decides what stories become canonized within a genre? What factors come into play?

Today, we’ll get a glimpse at the opinions of panelists from this year’s Worldcon, Lone Star Con 3, via the notes I took while there. Panelists on Canon Formation: How Do We Decide What Becomes a “Classic”? included: Karen Burnham, Jacob Weisman, Damien Broderick, and Ann VanderMeer.

This panel was especially curious because of how much the panelists debated over their influences in choosing stories and what stories were good and not. It was as if we watched a microcosm of canon creation, though the panelists varied quite a bit in their sub genre preferences.

Unlike my other Worldcon Treasures posts, this one is more like a single list of things because, to be honest, canon creation is difficult to define. It is, in essence and in my opinion, based upon the whole of what was said, the distillation of all the opinions surrounding stories within a certain genre. Those stories that get spoken of most, argued about most, read most, tend to last for years longer, but that still doesn’t guarantee canonization. More specifically, our panelists had this to suggest...

  • Being in an anthology makes it more likely a work will continue to be in anthologies. Anthologists actually look back at old anthologies to get ideas of what to put in new anthologies.
  • Your estate refusing to allow your work to be reprinted can be a death sentence. If people aren’t continuing to read a story, it will not become canonized. Rather, you will vanish into obscurity.
  • Canons evolve over time.
  • Translations influence a work’s likelihood to become canonized.
  • What we think over time changes. Thus how we view a certain work will change also.
  • The conversations going on at the time about a certain work influence what’s canonized.
  • Different generations have different perceptions of canon and what it should include.
  • The older a work is, the more it should be examined as to whether it fits into a canon.
  • The newer a work, the more likely canonists are to misjudge its impact on the genre.
  • If a work fits into a certain movement, it’s more likely to be canonized. However, it takes time to know what that will include because movements aren’t fully apparent until after years of them being around.
  • There’s a difference between what you like as an individual and what’s influential and has influences later authors.
  • Who your publisher is and who champions your books are big factors in the success of a story.
  • There are “two types of writers”:
    • Those who sell very well but aren’t as “good.”
    • Those who don’t sell quite as well but receive much higher critical acclaim.
  • A canon crystalizes from all these opinions.
  • Canons help us figure out what to read and what not to read.

Thank you for joining me for today’s Worldcon Treasures. Next Friday, we’ll continue this series with how to handle it when you write yourself into a corner and your dragon eats the prince. Until then, swing by on Monday for the next part in our read of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we’ll break down his masterful story to see how great fiction works.

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