A way with worlds: 09 - Retcon as Continuity
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 1
You're writing along, and
you look back on some of your published stories, perhaps to
review, perhaps for fun, perhaps to see glaring flaws (don't we
always see those). However, whatever your reason, then you note
that which we all fear, the specter that haunts so many writers.
A continuity error.
Maybe its a spell working
different than it does later in the tale, or a location wrong, or
something that didn't happen the way it should. No matter, its a
violation of your continuity, and its been written and you can't
really take it out because its buried in the rest of the story
and the world. Perhaps even your current works rely on that
If you're a
continuity/setting fanatic like me, its like having someone
pour icewater over your heart. You violated your world, you
messed up, you forgot, and probably you botched up future plots.
Its a terrible feeling of impotence, stupidity, and dread,
a real cocktail of anguish.
So, in the words of a
certain computerized book, Don't Panic. Here's how I cope, and
how you can turn these errors around.
OK, DID YOU ACTUALLY
MAKE A MISTAKE?
First of all, you may find your mistake wasn't one.
Review your continuity, review the story. You may have written
something that you knew subconsciously and forgot consciously. Or
it may not even be a mistake when reviewed.
You don't want to panic,
panic leads to uninformed actions, and those can make things
worse. Taking a cleaver to your works to fix a mistake that may
not be a mistake will only complicate matters.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN IT?
It may not be that bad. Maybe you can explain a
continuity glitch by character error, being misinformed, bad or
good luck, etc. In short, perhaps the error you found can be
explained simply in a way that doesn't require you to extensively
reconsider continuity elements.
I myself once had a
character comment on a city's population, and realized later that
her comment was wrong. It may never come up, but if it does,
she's simply wrong due to her being new there and misinterpreting
the definition of the city's boundaries. That's my explanation,
it fits, I'm covered, and I can even work it into a story where
the character comments on her ignorance. This of course is not
exactly a major continuity glitch, but serves as a good example.
CAN YOU FIX IT BY
This is the easiest method. Slightly alter continuity to make up
for errors. You're probably doing this a little bit every now and
then anyway as you tweak and poke ideas into shape or solidify
them. This is also an effective but unradical solution.
CAN YOU FIX IT BY
Look over the error. Maybe your continuity isn't
damaged, but needs something a bit extra to explain it. Take a
look at what is supposedly wrong, and ask what addition to your
continuity can explain it. Perhaps you subconsciously added
something that fits easy, or this can even become an extra story
Don't go throwing in
something new in a panic either. It can create more problems down
the road when your additions, included under panic, create more
continuity errors down the road. Besides, you can get a kind of
"mission creep" where you keep adding and adding ideas
to fix problems, some caused by new additions.
CAN YOU FIX IT BY
OK, maybe you can't fix your error by adding something -
perhaps theres a part of continuity that, when removed,
fixes the problem and maintains continuity. After all, some parts
are more necessary than others to your world.
Personally, I don't like
doing this, its a chance to create more problems, even moreso
than adding elements to your continuity. A story universe can
unravel quickly if you start yanking out threads of ideas, its
just not as stable as the real thing.
This is the Big Enchilada of correcting continuity
mistakes. Its not for amateurs, and in some cases, not for
professionals. This is correcting a mistake or mistakes (and big
ones) by making them part of the story and the continuity. In
short, the problems become part of the larger story and the
A classic example of this is
DC Comics "Zero Hour," where inconsistent parts of the
DC Comics timeline became part of a plot about time collapsing. A
flaw in the continuity got turned around into a plot and into a
chance to correct errors. People may argue if it was a good idea
or if it worked, but it was ambitious.
This is not something I
recommend unless you're very, very sure. I've seen ambitious
undertakings like this, and its definitely not easy. However, it
is an option, and it has the added advantage of turning a mistake
into a whole new story idea and hopefully a firmer continuity.
However, I've never seen it
done very well.
A continuity error is not the end of the world. But be
sure your solution isn't either.
THE FANFIC REBELLION!
(Isn't exactly as impressive as it sounds)
Take a trip to my own alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.