Continuity Challenges & the Art of Retcon

The biggest problem I find myself facing as I write both the fourth Paul Robertson book and the third Lies Series book is continuity. The last thing I want is to put these books out there for the public to read, and have the more eagle-eyed readers say, “Hey, didn’t you say in book two that…”

I guess that’s the price you pay when you create a whole Universe and write within, with interconnected characters and stories that take place at the same as other stories in the same universe.

For example, the third Lies book will take place towards the end of Paul’s second year at university—and the second half of Paul’s second year at university is the main time period that the fourth book in his series takes place.

Now, I’ve written a scene in the third Lies book that contains a throwaway line that kinda locks me in to a deadline for the events in Paul’s fourth book.

This probably isn’t that big of a problem really, because I’m still writing both books, so I can easily go back and delete the throwaway line if the plans change.

It’s more of a problem if I need to reference something from an already published book—it means going back and checking what was written previously.

For example, the events of The Lies we Lead took place during one week in the middle of the timeline of A Wounded Heart. And while I didn’t need to reference it, the events of The Truths we Live can’t really be ignored in Paul’s fourth book, given that Paul will end up as one of the silent investors in Bobby’s business.

It becomes even more of a problem if I find that the events of a previous book don’t fit with the events of a book I’m writing. That happened when I was writing A Wounded Heart. I found that one event in A Tortured Soul didn’t sit well alongside the story I now wanted to tell.

Fortunately, I’m the arbiter of Canon in The Westmouthshire Universe, so I had absolutely no problem at all going back and making changes to ATS to make it fit in with AWH.

If it’s good enough for Tolkien, it’s good enough for me.

These are big examples, but it’s really the little details that cause the biggest headache. For me, this means the “map” of Westmouth. I don’t want to be moving the location of a pub, for example. Or even a district within the town. I’ve come across one of these very minor but very irritating problems in the chapter I’m currently writing.

Here’s the dilemma…

Did I ever describe what building was on the west side of the main square in the centre of the campus?

That’s it. That’s the problem. I can’t remember if I have done this or not. And now I need to know if I have or not, so that know whether I can place a building I need for this scene there or not.

I know that the south side of the square is open and overlooks the town from its position high on the hill. I know that the Student’s Union is to the east and the library to the north—with a large green space in between these to the northeast.

But I can’t remember if I ever stated, even in passing, what the building to the west is. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have mentioned at some point that it was the English department, possibly in Kissed by a Rose—which as of A Wounded Heart would be wrong, because in that book I made it clear that the campus was split into four quarters—the accommodation quarter in the northwest, the sport centre (and sports science department) in the southwest, the law, humanities and creative arts departments (which would include English) in the northeast and all the science departments in the southeast.

See, my head hurts just writing all that down.

And now I have to go back and check in Kissed by a Rose if I really did put the English department somewhere that it no longer is.

And move it.

I think they call that a Retcon.

What I really need to do is create a map of Westmouth, the University campus and the wider county. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to that. It’s the same sort of project as the timeline/calendar I need to create.

But if I do, I’m sure I’ll have fun doing it.

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