Retconning and Fleshing Out a Universe

29 Jun

So I’ve been working on Book 3 of the Rogue Healer series and after farting around with some tentative titles for the time being I’m going with Titan’s Ascent. Titles are ultimately up to the publisher, and I might change my mind a dozen times before I submit, let alone worry about marketing. I’ve been more than 100k in for almost a month, if I wasn’t only at around 103k here at month end. I’m having my hump problem, which I’ll rant about in another post. It’ll be solved, unlike Chimera, the novel where I am so stagnant every other stupid idea in the back of my brain looks better even though I want to write a sequel to Chimera. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to philander and play and write a bit of the next book, but it got me to expanding a universe that wasn’t necessarily planned.

In other words, you have an idea that stands alone, but you want to do not just a sequel, but a good sequel. Expand upon the ideas. You might even have something in mind for a series, but you aren’t going to write 8 books when you can’t sell one. The problem I’ve found in this industry is as follows: Rogue Healer already was a spinoff, and I finished the rough draft of the novel eleven years ago. I sold it and it was supposed to be out three years ago, but welcome to the publishing world. Even if we’re being conservative, that’s eight years between finishing (and I’d been working on it for about two years prior) and launch. But I was super excited to get back into the series and wrote Book 2, and am currently working on Book 3. The publisher originally wanted to sign a novella spinoff I wrote to flesh out the world, but now she isn’t sure how to use it because it’s short (20K) my suggestion is I write shorts (other novellas).

Thing is, I love delving into lore and backstory. The Game of Throne Scene Lore? I watched them on Youtube before I watched the tv series, but part of me wanted the books to finish, and then I could watch the show, but I still haven’t seen Season 6&7. I like reading up on concept art and why certain decisions were made, especially when you’re alternating a source material to another medium.

It also got me thinking about things I hate. I was born in the 80’s, so let’s say that I have seen my share of unnecessary and terrible sequels that were essentially a money grab, and some that were surprisingly good.

As for me, I hate retconning. I think most of us do, unless it was kind of a stupid idea to begin with. I’m not counting series that take a few episodes to get good, but when it feels like you’re reading or watching something different than what the first episode was. I enjoy the film Pitch Black, but it feels like a low budget horror film set in a sci fi universe, whereas the following films Chronicles of Riddick and Riddick feel like Conan the Barbarian in Space. I’m cool with and enjoy all of the films, but it’s not like they had a massive shift in audience appeal.

The problem is with writing a series and you know it’ll take a few years, you know that there’s going to be new ideas in the future. Good stories tend to rhyme or have ripples, so setting up ideas for the future is awesome when you’re writing essentially two books at the same time, but I know some series are 20+ books and you can’t tell me that some authors have all of them written at the time of the first book’s completion. Even if it is a completed series, you dont’ know what the future holds and if your publisher wants you to keep a character in or slash its budget.

It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to go back and deal with an issue if you want to change something now. You can get creative and say, ‘Oh, someone got a detail wrong’ but it can feel like a cop out, especially if it feels like it’s trying to hand wave things away. This is especially problematic with genres like fantasy, because oftentimes people hand wave it and say, “It’s just fantasy, we can make up whatever we like.” Wrong – you can make up whatever you want in the development stage. Going against what was established already had better have a solid good explanation.

But with fantasy series that keep expanding, it’s surprisingly fun and interesting to see later writers build on the previous ideas, and if the foundations are strong it can make for excellent. Know how I said you can have whatever rules you want in fantasy? Well, those rules need to be at least implied. Many writers get flack for ripping off of Tolkien, but for me, I kind of like it so long as the author makes it his own, I’m fine with fantasies involving dwarves and elves and men. As a reader, if I read a book set in any ‘real era’ I can look up a detail if the author doesn’t have time to explain Edwardian Society or The Napoleon Wars; if it’s not in the fantasy novel, there’s a certain amount that the reader should be able to make up. Tolkien didn’t tell what happened from the perspective of The Dwarves during the War of the Ring, but he didn’t have to; the world building was strong enough that we assumed that the dwarves behaved like dwarves defending their dwarven cities. Does The Hobbit translate perfectly for The Lord of the Rings? No – but it tells us enough that we can surmise what the dwarves were doing, plus we do have characters like Gimli and Legolas talking a little bit about them, but the focus on the novel is elsewhere.

Do you have any favourite works that were spin offs, or that were ‘rip offs’ of other media? What’s your least favourite ret-con in media? I’d keep going, but I have a titan to take down.

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