Canonical Writing and the SCP Foundation
Updated: Jan 5, 2022
Culture & Community
by Dr "Blake" Pierson
Confic writing has piqued interest over the years as many advent writers contribute and explore the subgenre. Sites like the SCP Foundation and the RPC Authority explore their in-universes with such detail that it honestly looks like a glimpse to a whole new world, a parallel reality as I’d say.
Both websites contribute an array of information, tales, and bits of insight of the world that they’re building within. However, for those who are aware, or unaware, the SCP Foundation has a sort of “policy” concerning how lore and canon function and implement within the website. So, what is exactly a canon?
In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story by its fan base. -- Wikipedia
A canon is essentially a lore that’s accepted as official. An example would be timelines, events, etc. Let’s say the SCP Foundation canonizes janitors wearing glitter-embroidered jackets (not actually true); this detail would be expected to be included across all or most instances of the fiction. A more realistic example would be the format of an SCP article, e.g. the designation number.
Now, going back to that aforementioned policy, the SCP Foundation does not have a proper canon. In fact, the site is entirely run on the basis of “contradiction”, which basically means that any SCP article that contradicts one another is largely accepted.
Contradictions, as such, can be widened from dates and events to outright ignoring established lore and precedents of what the SCP Foundation is. There are currently 41 SCP-001 entries (at the time of writing), all of which are technically incompatible with one another, as only one can be the "true" SCP-001. Many people refer to this writ large as the “non-canon” policy. Nothing on the website is canonical except for the common basis that the Foundation is an intergovernmental organization tasked with protecting humanity from SCPs.
Let’s explore what the concept of “contradiction” of canons means for the SCP Foundation website, and how it affects the perception of its (fictional) organization.
Whose Word Do We Believe?
Fig 1.0. (Source: SCP Wiki Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ))
The concept of “no canon” is affirmed by the SCP Staff. They’ve stated that the idea is entirely built on contradiction since the website’s foundation (no pun intended). Many within the SCP Community, ranging from writers to lore explorers, have often believed that the idea of a “canon” actually exists to an extent. Which is to say, you are within your rights, to believe that there is a sort of canon, because the very idea of contradiction also allows you to enable the idea of it. This allowance and room for personalized canon is referred to as "headcannon".
So, it’s also a double-edged sword where one person who has a specific, different perception of their canon, can also be allowed. Again, contradiction is there to allow all sorts of ideas, concepts, and the very perception of canonicity to be shared in the room while not factually confirming it to be true. Canon, we might say, is in a sort of superposition; a non-collapsed probability wave in the suspension of disbelief.
Whilst I am stating that there is no-canon and the concept of contradiction is accepted as for what it is, why is that the case exactly? Why is a website about a strict intergovernmental organization that contains paranatural objects, entities, and phenomenon placing their uniting narrative as non-canon? There are a lot of reasons, as well as varying opinions, as to why non-canon is a widely accepted policy on the SCP Foundation. So, here a few reasons why it is the case:
Non-canon allows for flexibility: By nature, non-canon simply disregards anything to be factual. This actually works well for a website like the Foundation as it simply allows writers to contribute without worrying about an overarching narrative or lore that would simply hinder their creativity or simply brushed aside for “canon breaking.” The infamous Fishmonger incident was an event that tilted the SCP Wiki in the direction no established canon early in its history.
It represents the Foundation in an immersive way: Here’s one thing you’d be surprised about: the non-canon policy actually enriches the website's immersion further. The very idea of “nothing is actually true, you have to decide yourself” fits well for the website as one can imagine that many SCP articles they've read may be fabricated to prevent the truth from being known (as in the case with SCP-001). This brings a personal allure to the experience, which can become tailor-fit to someone.
It’s by now impossible to have a “main” canon: The very concept of a “main” canon would, and as many of you would agree, not be possible today at the SCP Wiki. The SCP Foundation was built on contradiction. By now, the very idea of a “main ''canon would be impossible to enact or be fathomed by the community; especially when there are those within the website that largely favor the idea of non-canon, and its ability to grant flexibility and freedom when writing about the organization as aforementioned.
There are Canons, but They Aren’t Actually Canon
Fig 1.1. (Source: SCP Wiki Canon Hub)
Despite what I said about there not being a canon, there is an assortment of psuedo-canons that are accepted but not all centrally considered connected. I like to call this “shared canon” where, as opposed to non-canon, these non-connected & author-established lores are more centered towards a specific narrative. There are some similarities to the idea of a “central” canon, one of them being that there are internal consistencies to these shared canons that anyone adopting the material will have to follow in order for it to work (or be accepted by democratic vote).
There are many shared canons that can be found within the canon hub that tell unique and interesting stories of the SCP Universe. Personally, I am a fan of the Broken Masquerade canon as it is about the idea of the Foundation being publicly exposed in the aftermath of North Korea disappearing from the map, and essentially exposing SCPs to the world. As aforementioned above, writers and contributors have to follow a set of established rules when writing in this lore and for this canon; most importantly that the Foundation within the Broken Masquerade canon is now public. Anything you do is widely reflected on public image and scrutiny. So, any concept has, to varying degrees, be grounded on realism in terms of politics and diplomacy.
Shared canons are a thing, but whether one can simply consider them actually canon is not really up for debate. They are canon to their specific narrative, but are not canon across the website.
Non-Canon vs. Single Canon
Let’s drag the RPC Authority into this conversation and use them as our basis for a comparison. The RPC Authority, unlike its containment fiction 1.0 counterpart, has a different approach when it comes to lore and canon as a whole. They’ve essentially created a way to have a centralized, single canon into their narrative while also having many of its contributors accept it as a whole.
There are a few certain areas of the single canon that not many agree upon unanimously, but is regarded canon nonetheless. For example, the “Incomplete History of the Authority” written by Von Pincier. This timeline is canonical as it includes dates and events in the modern era, from Fail Safe to the Budget Cuts event. Any and all site events are folded into the existing lore with great care, the most recent at the time of writing being one that explores the Authority in the Wild West era. There is also an official in-universe lexicon, and a detailed history of the modern-day Authority's organizational predecessor.
Naturally, the more established lore that exists, the more restrictions; but also, the more opportunities for additional narrative creation. The more down you go into this timeline, it becomes a bit controversial, especially with established fact in the real world. For example, let's say the assassin who would go onto slay the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand turns out to be an Authority agent who carried out the assassination on their behalf; which would spark the Great War. This would need to be agreed upon as official lore in order to survive on the site since it re-interprets real world events.
Certain events like the ones above are canon as anything written on the website (aside from joke articles and those tagged as non-canon) are all part of the single canon narrative, which is what helps makes the website unique and different from the SCP Foundation. However, there is healthy debate around the topic still, with many anti-canon writers claim that imposing a canon is regarded as impossible due to many issues that it causes, ranging from overseeing the consistency of the canon to continuous alteration and editing to certain articles.
They may have some strong arguments for why a central canon wouldn’t work on a website like SCP Foundation versus the RPC Authority. One major factor for its impossibility to be implemented on the Foundation website is its large audience and popularity, not to mention its transition to Series 7, already having almost +7,000 articles on the website. If there ever was a consideration to go for a single canon style like the RPC Authority, I guarantee you that the majority of the content on the main list would require either some rework or be deleted.
The RPC Authority is proving, successfully so far, that it is possible to have a vast, single canon, with allowance still for a hybrid approach via their non-canon section, although the argument stands that this would still be very difficult or next to impossible to implement at SCP.
Throughout this article, I’ve been saying that there is no canon and its side canons aren’t exactly canon due to their inert statuses as “shared”. There is arguably one lore element that is considered the one and only true part to be canon within the SCP Wiki, and that is simply the idea of the SCP Foundation; its existence. The organization itself, the very idea and perception of it is as a polymorphic narrative, is actually the only idea of canonicity.
You as a writer have the right to claim to what is or isn’t canon, as the SCP staff intends, but what you simply don’t have the right is to dispute what the SCP Foundation actually is– because that itself is canon, a bit of meta-canon linch-pinning the whole thing together; it’s the accepted piece of factual information across the community.
Its symbol, its name, and its motto are all part of that only true form of canon; typified by the titular words of Secure, Contain, and Protect.
© Confic Magazine LLC