If there is one thing readers can’t stand, it is a retcon. Whether you are changing an inconsequential detail or something big, they will notice and they will not be happy.
Now, there are lots of reasons that a writer retcons. Stories can change a lot as they are being told. Sometimes this results in the writer wanting to go back and change something. If the work is unpublished, this can be easy. When the work is published, though, it can be tricky.
It can be very easy to do, especially if you are writing a series. It can be detrimental, though, to your reputation and your story. Here are a few reasons you should think hard before you retcon.
It irritates the reader
When you go back and change something that is already established in the story, it annoys the reader. If it is a small thing, then they might be able to overlook it, but if it is bigger…it’s not going to be good. At the very least you are going to throw your reader for a loop, and they are not going to like that.
You want your readers to be focused on the story, to become engrossed, attached to it. The last thing you want is to have them raging against your retconning.
Sometimes a retcon can undo the significance of an event, or damage a character arch. This can tank your story. Retcon something your audience loves, they will not soon forget it. If it messes with the arc of their favorite character…let’s just say you don’t want to go there.
You also run the risk of confusing the reader. The plot should have twists and turns, yes, but it should be solid. Steady. It should not sneakily rewrite itself (unless you are doing this intentionally, but that is another conversation).
It makes your writing look weak
When you retcon, it reflects poorly on your skills as a writer. Even if it is something small, such as a character’s hair color, your readers will not be impressed.
Retconning something small makes you look like you are forgetful, neglectful. Now, I know how much planning and crafting goes into telling a good story. It takes even more to write that story. So I get that it can be easy to miss the little details. There are some details, though, that you need to keep straight. Otherwise, the readers might think you don’t care.
Drastically changing your plot, despite things you set up earlier in the series, makes you come across like someone who has no idea what they are doing. We have all seen this happen in shows and movies. It either leaves you confused or frustrated, and wondering why the writer couldn’t pick a plot. They look like they either did not plan ahead, have no idea what they are doing, or both. Probably both.
There are a few other, smaller things that can cause a big impact. Changing how a character’s name is spelled, either partway through the story or every so often. Switching up how the characters are related. The first one is easy to do and, depending on how odd the name is, can be forgiven by the reader. Heck, they may not even notice. But with the second one, they are a lot more likely to catch on. This will not end well for you.
The moral of the story is don’t retcon. It can be annoying for the readers and it makes you look like a bad writer.
Next week I am going to share some tips on how to avoid retconning. As always, feel free to leave a comment if there is anything you would like to add or if you have any questions.
Until next time!