How to not Retcon

I think we can all agree that retconning is bad. We have been there, covered that. Time to move on.

Now, how do we avoid retconning?

I have been putting some thought into this recently. As a writer, I understand how easy it can be to let details slip or lose track of where a particular plot thread was going. As the story grows and morphs, and you move beyond the first draft, things can get lost.

The one I am currently working on has gone through some drastic changes, and it includes possible character name changes part of the way through the book. I’ve trimmed down my cast of characters quite a bit, but there is still a lot to keep track of.

So here are a few things I am going to do to keep my story straight.

Note: there are wonderful programs, such as Scrivner, that help with this but as I do not have any such program, my suggestions will reflect this.

Plot, plot, plot

You may be thinking “duh, we all know how to plot.” Hear me out.

I’ve mentioned before that my current project has gone through a lot of changes. When starting on the most recent draft/iteration, I created a detailed plot outline detailing my idea. Then I talked through the plot with my friend, resulting in some of those points being changed.

I then went back and reworked the plot outline. Its a goal of mine to always have an up-to-date plot outline. The practice may seem like a waste of time, but as your story changes adjusting your outline can help you easier keep track of the current plot.

Also, by intentionally plotting things out ahead of time and throughout the process, this could help you create a smoother, more coherent plot.

It is easy enough to do and will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

When in doubt, leave it out

Perhaps “keep it vague” is a better way to phrase it.

Picture this:
A writer decides far into the story that they want to do something with a character or the plot that differs from their original plan. They have not built up to this in any way, and chances are they have already hinted that things were going to go differently.

I know I have seen it before and I am pretty sure you have too, at least once. It is super annoying and has a nasty habit of ruining whatever impact that moment might have had.

My solution?

If you aren’t sure where you want to go with something, keep it vague. Don’t give any direct answer as to which way it could go. Even better, leave hints that it could go either way. By leaving it vague or uncertain as to which way something could go, you make the reveal of the truth that much more rewarding.

It can also give you time to consider why you are thinking about doing whatever it is. If it is important to the plot, great. If it is for shock value, maybe reconsider. But that is a topic for another time.

Make a cheat sheet

This relates back to the first point about keeping an up-to-date plot outline.

Odd names for people and places. Important objects that exchange ownership. Convoluted plot threads. If there is a chance you could forget or lose track of things in your story, consider creating a cheat sheet.

Keep records of your characters, how to spell their names, their backstories, how they are related to the others. Write down what they look like and make notes of when that might have changed.

Trace the ownership of important items and note what was going on when they changed hands.

Use the highlighter to visually mark important events and add them to your cheat sheet.

Yes, tools like Scrivener make this much easier, but there are ways to function without them. Use whatever tools you have at your disposal to keep your story straight.

Get more eyes

Lastly, it helps a lot to have a second pair of eyes. Get a friend or someone you trust to read over your work.

I know you have spent hours upon hours pouring over your work. That is part of the problem. You are so familiar with every single word that you are bound to miss things. By having someone who has never seen it before (that may or may not already know the story), you are increasing the likelihood of catching any slip-ups.

I have done this for friends before and helped catch some name mix-ups as well as things that were not made clear. It can be hugely beneficial and, by giving it to a friend, you know you can trust their advice. Also, they are less likely to tear your work into tiny little pieces.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need to hire an editor. Those are needed too.

Hopefully, you will find these tips and tricks useful when tackling your next literary adventure.

Next week we are going to be tackling one of my favorite questions and the uncertainty it can cause.

As always if you have any questions or comments, leave them down below. I am always looking for new topics to cover!

Until then!

Write What You Need

Write what you know. One of the most common pieces of writing advice you will ever hear. It’s not wrong either. As writers, we draw from our personal experience to help bring our stories and characters to life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

People are always going to tell you how you should be writing or what you should be writing about. Sometimes they have good advice. Other times they mean well, but they are the opposite of helpful.

Tell the story you want to tell. That you need to tell.

The stories we tell don’t always fit into our personal experiences. Just look at fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mysteries. Literally any form of fiction. While our experiences and opinions influence the stories, you are in no way required to write within your world. Sometimes you need to step outside of what you know and step into what you need.

Writing, in and of itself, is a form of exploration. It is a massive thought experiment full of “what if this…” It is a chance for people to think through things they have always wondered about. A chance for writers to create the world they have always dreamed of. We get to live in a world that is completely our own where, for once, we are in control.

It is a form of escapism for the writer as well as the reader. We all struggle. We all experience hardships. Some of us have struggles that never really go away. We have this baggage that we just have to learn to live with. We all have to face the darkness and there will always be something we wish we could have or experience, that we know will never happen.

Some of the most beautiful stories come from what we wish for, what we want. Writing gives us a chance to hold up a mirror and show the world what needs to change. How the world can be better.

When life gets crazy and things get messy, we don’t need a reminder of how scary the world can be. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. We are all aware of this. We need to see that things can be better. That life isn’t all bad. That there is hope.

Instead of writing what you know, write what you need. Because chances are the world needs it too.

Just Write

If writers are good at one thing, we are really good at procrastinating when we should be writing. It happens all of the time. I am especially guilty of this. I wrote a story during my junior year of high school and I still have not finished the second draft. I graduated from college in December.

There are lots of reasons we don’t write. We don’t have the motivation. We don’t have the time. We aren’t in the zone. Or, my personal favorite, the story isn’t ready yet.

At least, that is what we say.

We really avoid it because we aren’t ready. There is something holding us back. We are afraid of failure, of rejection. We are afraid to try because we don’t know if anyone is listening.

I know I can’t be the only one who is tired of this. It is time for us to overcome the things that are holding us back and move past everything that is holding us back. It is time for us to start writing.

The thing is, your novel isn’t going to write itself. As amazing as that would be, it is simply not going to happen. You have to sit down, put your fingers on your keys, and get to work.

If your response is “my story isn’t ready yet”, I have something to say to that. I spend about a month prepping a plot outline for NaNoWriMo, got 64 pages through and I could not get the story moving. It was terrible. During that time, though, I created two characters who ended up taking over the story. It turns out I was telling the wrong story about the wrong characters.

My point is, no matter how much preparation you put into your novel the story will change as you write it. It will breathe, grow, take you in directions you never expected. As you write your story will improve because you realize that certain things you have will not work. You find other things that will work better. You find and fill all of the plot holes as you go.

Your story can’t go anywhere if you don’t start writing it.

Another common struggle I see among writers is “why bother writing if no one is going to read it?” We convince ourselves that no one could possibly be interested in what we have to say. This could come from getting shut down when we try and talk about certain things or just a low self-esteem. We think we have nothing to offer.

Sometimes, you just have to write for yourself. Don’t worry about what your friends will think. Don’t worry about your family’s opinion. Don’t worry about what anyone else would say or think. You have a story inside of you, and even if you never show it to anyone else, you should still write it. Get it down on paper. You owe it to yourself to prove that you are capable of writing that story. That you are capable of finishing something.

If you are worried about what other people might think because of the content of the story, you can always publish under a pseudonym. This can also be helpful if you normally write in another genre, to prevent confusion.

Something else to keep in mind if you are worried no one will like your story. Consider this. Are you part of a fan community? Do you share interests and passions with other people? Do you yourself enjoy the story you have created?

If you answered yes to any of these, then I can guarantee that someone somewhere will like your book. I’ll go more into this in a later post, but trust me when I say that if you tell a good story people will like it. They will read it. They will identify with the characters. They will enjoy the plot. They will see that you did it and realize that they can do it too.

But none of this will happen if you never finish the dang book.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some writing to do.