The Stations of the Canon
Predominantly a Fanfic trope.
The inevitable result of a Divergence Fic or a Peggy Sue Fic: You move across certain plot points from that point onward. These events tend to be quite fixed, and thus they can, when done poorly, come across as merely crossing over The Stations of the Canon, rather than an actual plot, which is where this trope comes in.
This trope is named after the Stations of the Cross, a traditional set of 14 or 15 iconic scenes from the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ used in some denominations of Christian worship, and which are frequently reinterpreted in various media.
For example, if you have "Harry Potter raised by someone else" Fan Fic, you must cross over the Stations of The Letter From Hogwarts, The Visit To Diagon Alley, The Trip To Hogwarts, The Sorting Hat, and, depending on how you play things, The Troll, all the way up to The Confrontation With Quirell/Voldemort—all iconic moments that establish key points of the setting or characterization as the fandom knows it.
Sometimes (but not always) brings up Fridge Logic involving In Spite of a Nail; no matter what changes have already been made in the characters or setting, the plot somehow twists to allow it to cross the Stations. (If the events in question are on a schedule that has nothing to do with what happens to the protagonist, this particular problem does not appear.) At the very worst, the story will be exactly the same as the original just with a few changes in the details.
Some authors attempt to minimize this trope by either describing the events from a different perspective or simply skipping over a Station with only minimal description of the events.
Examples should be of works whose fanfic show this tendency, rather than individual fanfics, since this is very much one of Sturgeon's Tropes. Connected to Broad Strokes - How broadly the events are painted relates to how many Stations the work bothers crossing.
Examples of fandoms whose fanfics show this tendency
- If an Original Character is just starting out on a Pokémon journey, it's almost inevitable that they'll be late to get their starter.
- Naruto: Good luck finding any Divergence fic that does stealing the scroll, the Wave mission, Chuunin exam with any amount of creativity.
- The Wave mission is really the worst offender. There must be around 50000 versions of it and they're all the same.
- Team 8 only mentions the Wave Country mission in passing as a Noodle Incident that happened to Sakura, Sasuke, and Kiba; it's clear a few things changed, such as (yes) Haku surviving.
- There's at least one where Naruto "misses the prompt", then gets so paranoid about the team sent "in his place" that he fakes being sick and trails them there in secret.
- Better Left Unsaid does one of the more creative interpretations: since Naruto is on Team 10 in this fic, Chouji calls for Team 10 as reinforcements after Team 7's initial battle with Zabuza which leads to a number of noteworthy creative differences in the arc: Zabuza dies sooner and against Asuma, while Haku survives and parts ways with Naruto as a friend; but even more unusually, Gato of all people survives the arc! The author actually lampshades in the AN (following the arc's end) that he's tired of writing the Land of Waves mission after only 2 interpretations, because of how hard it is to be flexible with the arc.
- The Wave mission is really the worst offender. There must be around 50000 versions of it and they're all the same.
- Ranma ½: Girl-type Ranma being introduced to the Tendos, "I'm Ranma Saotome. Sorry about this.", etc.
Rain. Postcard. Kitchen. Bed. Dojo. Bricks. 'FIANCE'?!' Girl. Panda. Fight. CLONG! GROWF! Knock. Ranma.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji's "reunion" with his father, the battle with the Third Angel, etc. Many have described the EVA canon as one of the most stiff and rigid to bend for fanfic purposes without going to full blown Alternate Continuity.
- Well, the Angels keep coming, on a preexisting schedule and with preexisting forms (the later ones evolve slightly to deal with prior ones' defeats, but that can't kick in until later). What else is going to happen? The only one that really averts this is Nobody Dies, which has the Third killed somehow by Rei before the story even begins, in a manner that postpones the Fourth by a few years, and that's only possible because the divergence point is in the backstory of both the series and the fanfic.
- Even the official rebooted continuity, Rebuild of Evangelion, hardly changes anything from the first six episodes - Evangelion 1.0/1.01/1.11 goes through the stations at a rapid pace, but still every one of them, with the only changes being some new and different Foreshadowing. Then the second movie comes along and everything goes completely and totally Off the Rails as far as the plot goes.
- Even so, the second movie still keeps a number of major points. A lot of angels are skipped, but Unit 02 still appears high in the air spinning about, Unit 03 still does its thing, Zeruel still pwns everything, and Eva 01 still gets its S2 Organ. It's hard to argue that these are the most important stations in the episodes the movie is made from. However, the individual twists to each, as well as all the stuff in between, have massive changes.
- Done often with Zatch Bell, especially with the Millenium-Mamodo arc. It doesn't seem to matter what things change beforehand, what OC characters are involved, or even if it's a cross-over fic. The entire arc seems to go on exactly the same way, right up to and past the ending battle between Brago and Zophis, which might as well be 'copy-and-pasted' from the canon.
- Bubblegum Crisis: Irene Chang dies (or not), Storming the Castle to kill Brian J. Mason, etc.
- Oh, Wolf's Rain, how do they repeat your episodes, let me count the ways... Heck, even the canon does it.
- The Familiar of Zero crossover fic cannot avoid - unless you want to get really creative - including the summoning, since it kickstarts the plot. Most people doing crossovers usually also include the duel with Guiche in some way, as it is where the Saito-substitute gets a chance to show off his/her power, if he did not already do so at the summoning, and prove that (s)he's not a hapless schmuck.
- No matter who the familiar is they will have to go to town to buy a sword. Even if they honestly have no reason to just so that they can buy Derflinger. Writers like having the sword around even if the familiar might end up never using it in combat.
- Mahou Sensei Negima, what are we going to do with you? Many Original Characters go through the arcs by numbers. One inevitably meets Konoemon, Shizuna, and Takamichi, then meets Negi and the 3-A class, before going through the Evangeline Arc, Library Island, the trip to Kyoto, and the tournament within the Mahora Festival, before the writers inevitably exhaust themselves and give up their fic for death.
- Death Note. If it involves Mello after Wammy's House, no matter how AU the fanfic is, Mello will get scarred or already be scarred. Also, Fix Fics really love following the Stations up through the start of the Memory Gambit, then seeing how spectacularly they can derail it.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has about twelve episodes, each with at least one important event happening in each of them. It's almost impossible for a Fix Fic to not go along the plotted line until it starts making its changes.
- Harry Potter: As described above.
- Lord of the Rings gives us Frodo inheriting the Ring, running from Nazgul, meeting Strider, the Council of Elrond (Even if a Tenth Walker Mary Sue has skipped over the previous bits, we invariably get the "and you have my X" lines.) Caradhras, the Mines, Boromir's betrayal, etc.
- The Circle of Magic books invite this by starring a Four-Temperament Ensemble who all followed the same general template to begin with—so it's inevitable that half the fanfics are about The Woobie experiencing a traumatic event (or an entire tragic childhood) resulting in Parental Abandonment, having their unusual ambient magic discovered at a late age, being whisked off to Winding Circle Temple, and getting transferred to Discipline House because they don't fit in.
- Discussed in the RPG rulebook for The Dresden Files. In one section about what to do with the eponymous wizarding PI, it mentions that whatever you decide to do with him, there are some defining events of the setting that need to be taken into account—usually because Dresden himself was in a wholly unique position that let him stop The End of the World as We Know It. Therefore, if you go the "kill off Harry in the background" route, the GM needs to either figure out a way that the world continues to not be a Zombie Apocalypse, or perhaps have the PC's deal with it.
- The Hunger Games fanfictions have the Reaping, the family good-byes, training, forming alliances, the chariot entrances, the interviews, and the start of the Games themselves. Fanfics that are told in the first person, present tense, also tend to include exposition on what the Games are, what tesserae are, etc., just in case the reader has forgotten.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy's arrival, meeting Angel, "Prophecy Girl", Angel losing his soul, etc. No matter how much is changed, the mayor will seldom show his hand in season one.
- Ace Attorney: For whatever reason, a Fix Fic generally only changes one of the Canon Stations: the DL-6 case, the SL-9 case, Diego going into a coma, Mia getting killed by Redd White, and the real perpetrators of each of the cases.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is a criminal offender of this trope, to the point where every minor game event gets its own station, and few authors manage to get past the first five.
- While Brave New World subverts this in two ways. First, it's a reimagining of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, with the events of the first Pokemon Mystery Dungeon being part of the background. Second, while the basic plot points are all hit (they need the crystal stars to keep the door sealed, one of the fic's equivalent of the Shadow Sirens makes a Heel Face Turn, ect. ect.), there is a ton of worldbuilding, copious amounts of Alternate Character Interpretation, about a dozen subplots unique to the story, and just a dash of Grimdark.
- In general, any alternate universe based on a videogame will include an encounter with every boss (or every boss with a name), in order. If it was a series, it will tend to cover these games in series. This happens no matter how far diverged the fic's universe is from the game's universe.
- The Mega Man fandom tends to set fics and Sprite Comics based around the games, in order, even if they're alternate universe takes. Particularly popular are Mega Man X 4-6, since most comics based on that series use sprites from those games, making them the easiest to recreate.
- The Self-Insert Fic Mass Vexations and its sequel both play with this trope extensively; general things occur as they should in the games, but often little details will change, such as differing body language and people not being where they should at a given time. And then there are the times where it's flat-out subverted, such as Garrus's squad surviving; his loyalty mission still goes through Harkin giving them the information and Garrus finding Sidonis, but that's only the first half of the mission then.
- In Til the Sun Grows Cold and the Stars Grow Old, which is basically a fanfic novelization of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, this is done with a twist. The major plot points of Twilight Princess are the stations to be crossed, since the stations are the plot, but it also introduces some of the stations of the canon of other Zelda games because Link keeps having past life flashbacks.
- In The Sims fanfiction, Bella will always go missing and many times she will be revealed to be in Strangetown all along.
- Endemic in the Undertale fandom, as the most popular kind of fanwork are Alternate Universe Fics that more often than not consist in retellings of the game with some perspective change or some cosmetic change.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Early on there's Katara and Sokka crashing their canoe, unfreezing Aang, Zuko (or AU equivalent person) arriving in his warship, and then the Water Tribe kids rescuing Aang from said warship. In the Season 2 Ba Sing Se arc, there's typically some variation of Toph learning metalbending, Katara stumbling across Zuko and his uncle in the Jasmine Dragon, Katara and Zuko being imprisoned in the crystal caverns, Azula's temptation of Zuko, Aang being killed by Azula's lightning strike and Katara subsequently reviving him with the Spirit Oasis water, and the fall of Ba Sing Se. Season 3 features less of these stations overall, but there will usually be some variation on the Lion-Turtle appearing, Aang energybending Ozai, and Zuko becoming Fire Lord.
Outside of Fan Works
- Superheroes tend to have their origins retold over and over again (sometimes in completely alternate realities), but certain plot points must be hit. E.g., "I shall become a bat!", Professor X getting crippled, Hellboy joining the BPRD, etc.
- When John Byrne rebooted Superman in the 1980s, the first issue began with his parents on doomed Krypton. Later, Byrne commented that this was dumb of him; he should have let the readers learn the details at the same time as Clark, since all the readers knew the basics already. I.e., Byrne stuck to the Stations too closely, in his own opinion.
- Quite a few of the Elseworlds comics from DC suffer from this problem. Most commonly, they will rehash the origin of Batman with minor variations, but there will almost always be a Joker, a Catwoman, etc, etc, regardless of how illogical they might be in this setting.
- Speeding Bullets is one of the worst offenders in this - If Kal-El was raised by the Waynes instead of the Kents, Lex Luthor would be the Joker!
- Darkest Knight was worse by several measures. After Wayne becomes a Green Lantern, Sinestro starts wearing a purple trenchcoat and hat for no reason whatsoever.
- Superman: Secret Identity flip-flops on this, partially because of its This Is Reality message. Clark still grows up in a suburban town and then moves to a big city, swapping a Superboy identity for a Superman identity, gets a writing-related desk job and marries a Lois (Chaudhari, not Lane)... but no equivalents appear for any other classic Superman characters, such as Lex Luthor or Lana Lang.
- This is what the transmigrated Shen Yuan has to deal in universe with in The Scum Villain Self-Saving System. Because he is living in the body of Shen Quingqiu, one of the villains from the in-universe webnovel Proud Immortal Demon Way, Shen Yuan is forced to get with the stations of the original canon's plot, which include relieving the infamous scene where the original Shen Quinqiu kicked down the protagonist Luo Binghe towards an abyss to literal hell, even if he spent several years building a more positive relationship with the protagonist than the original character and thus lacking its motivation. Shen Yuan even uses one of the canon stations to leave the main plot by faking his death and tansferring his soul to another body. Of course, when he is forced by the System to get back to the main story, the cummulative effect of all the small acts Shen Yuan did on his attempt to avoid the original goods' gruesome ending has now utterly derailed the original plot, leaving him completely lost on what to do next.
- Endemic on the Isekai subgenre of "Girl Trapped in the last Otome Game she played/shoujo webovel she read as a Noble Villainess or as a Cannon Fodder character". Invariably, all the heroines will try to stick with the in-universe stations of the canon or use them for their benefit, with variable amount of sucess.
- Transformers will always find themselves on Earth at some point, no matter the continuity or how improbable it seems. Megatron and Optimus Prime will have a showdown, lines from the 1986 film battle will probably be spoken at some point, and Optimus Prime will die.
- And probably come back to life, usually with an upgrade. Also, Bumblebee is always younger/smaller and Starscream is always, well, The Starscream.
- Virtually every Game Mod ever made. In this case, it's primarily because they edit the existing game. This is common for example with Super Mario World ones, where blatantly edited hacks will keep the general structure of the game and many of the levels.
- Super Robot Wars K sure feels this way. Instead of combining and reimagining the various stories like other games in the franchise do, most chapters feel basically like "this episode or arc from a series, with scenes copy-pasted and everything", heroes barely interacting and such.
- We're only talking about passing the Station of the Canon here, not quality-- by most accounts, Speeding Bullets was actually pretty good.