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SETTING STANDARDS AND CONTINUITY IN YOUR WRITING

January 16, 2013

            Some may call this style, but that’s not really what I’m talking about when I say standards and consistency in writing. I’ll give an example in the form of a non-existent paragraph from my one of my Meleena’s Adventures novels.

            Meleena did not like taking orders from someone else, yet when Queelan told her to sit down, she did without hesitation. Something about his manner compelled her to comply where she wouldn’t do that for anyone else.

            Hmmm… now that I look at it, I may actually use it somewhere. Sorry, I digress.

            How many of you see the inconsistency? If not, I’ll give you a hint. I didn’t do things the same everywhere.

            For those of you that still didn’t get it, it’s the use of contractions. In the first sentence, I used did not, whereas in the last sentence, I used wouldn’t. This is called a continuity (consistency) error. It’s a simple example of what can be a complex issue. One way is to always use contractions, regardless. Another way is to not use them in the narrative and only use them in dialogue. Then there’s the possibility of not using contractions in the dialogue when the speaker is a non-native English speaker like I do with one of my characters in the Gold series. The whole point is that however you do it, keep it the same throughout the story.

            Contractions are an immediate example. The same could be said for say, standards of measure. Say, your characters are European where they’d use the metric system. Don’t have them using meters through most of the story then slip in a foot or an inch somewhere. That will likely jar the reader and throw them out of the story.

            In a bigger-picture issue, and to have fun with a terrible cliché, if it’s a dark and stormy night, don’t have a scene with sunshine arcing through a window!

            If you spell a word a certain way, especially if it can be spelled multiple ways, or if it’s a unique name, make sure you keep it spelled the same way throughout. Don’t count on the saving it in your spell checker trick to work every time. Don’t forget that you might be working on a different machine once in a while. Or, you may decide not to save it in the spell checker, which I often don’t do with a lot of special words like names. I’m used to seeing red-lined words, especially in my fantasy stories.

            If you have catch phrases your characters say, or habits they have, make sure they say or do them the same each time. Or, if they vary them, make sure to explain the variance somehow so the reader knows why they’re doing it differently. If not, that’s an unexplained continuity issue and will jerk your audience right out of the story.

            Stuff to consider as you write your big lie for everyone to enjoy!

            There are many more examples. Can you name some?

            Until next time.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Peggy West permalink
    January 16, 2013 4:12 am

    I read a Thornton Wilder novel years ago that used the word “you” outside of dialogue only once in the lengthy novel. It was jarring and a teaching moment (no thanks) and obviously I remember it. In the novel that I am writing, at the end of some chapters an omniscient narrator sails in with a comment. I am on the hunt for that narrator, who is quite witty, and am highlighting and deleting those comments even though it’s killing me. Those two examples have a problem of consistency plus other problems. Thank you for the post.

    • January 17, 2013 2:59 am

      Peggy,

      Yeah, those are POV errors. In other words, head-hopping between the characters and the author, or in this case, “God” as in the omniscient narrator. It is always jarring. Just like when an author likes to spoil the fun by revealing something to the reader by fortelling something the characters are going to face later on. I hate that but know a lot of authors that do it. Author intrusion is what that usually is.

      POV shifts are another form of consistency and continuity errors.

      Good call! I hope you get them all. It will make your book that much stronger.

      Thanks for the comments!

      Fred

    • January 25, 2013 3:01 am

      Peggy,

      Yeah, those thing that just jerk you right out of the story. Continuity!

      A good catch.

      Thanks!

      Fred

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