As writers, we are designing new worlds, new plots, all for our reader to consume as they invest their time in our book. This is great! We show off our creativity, our knowledge of life. However, this also comes with an added requirement.
What’s with the surprised blinking?
Our requirement is the need to remain consistent with our creation throughout the story.
For instance, if you created a new colony world where the sky is purple all day, that sky must remain purple for the entire story. If it’s purple in chapter one and two, then suddenly becomes blue in chapter four, the reader will expect a plot point that changed the color. If the sky fluctuates color, it also needs to be mentioned early so the reader doesn’t get confused each time the characters look up.
External details are obvious choices to use when talking about consistency.
Another comes about when dealing with dialogue. Suppose that your character has a southern drawl. If you’re attempting to write it out (*shudder* NOT recommended by this writer, in case you’re curious), you’ll want to make each of his ‘y’all’s or other mannerisms of speech the same throughout the book. Fricking is always fricking when dealing with consistency. Don’t change it from Fricking to Fraking to Farking to … well you get my point.
Continuing to focus on characters for a moment, let’s also look at character details. If the child is six in the first chapter, unless a year passes per chapter or you’re in a flashback, the child should be six in the second chapter. Eye color, hair color, skin color, these all need to remain the same through out the story, unless the plot specifically changes them. Also something that falls in this category: Names. A character could be George in chapter one and become Greg in chapter two. Or worse, three paragraphs down Chapter 1!
A great example of this is Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. He’s Gandalf the Gray throughout the Fellowship of the Ring. As part of the plot, he suffers then becomes Gandalf the White. It took the plot to change. For my newer readers that haven’t read it or seen the movies, I won’t ruin the plot by stating what happens.
If you’re running through an edit on your piece, this is something that you’re looking for when trying to find errors. It’s very good odds that the longer the piece, the more likely a glitch slipped into your writing. Talk to your critique partners, your helpful readers, and see what they spot. Their eyes might catch something that you don’t.
If you’re critiquing another’s work, this is one of those things to watch for to help the other writer out. Even if they ran a fine-tooth comb over the manuscript before letting your red pen loose, it still may have one or two that they missed.
I can see the question coming, so let me save a little typing. How can you remain consistent when writing? A few methods exist. I’ll offer the ones I’ve heard from other writers, as well as my own.
A few writers I talk to keep what they call a “Notes” file on each piece of writing that they create. This file contains tidbits about names, characteristics of each character, each town, etc. This way, as they type along, if they run into a question, they flip to the other file, find their answer, then return to typing. This is especially helpful for the writer that does no preplanning of their writing. In some cases, this isn’t a computer file but a physical file in a cabinet, or a notebook. It is whatever works best for that writer.
Other writers create documents for their writing. Depending on the extent of their planning, this could be a simple list of plot points, character and location descriptions, and anything else that they feel that they’d need to remember. I know some writers that create ten page dossiers on each character, three pages of form information regarding each location, and timelines about their history and plot. Sometimes, their planning has more writing than the actual written piece. If it allows them to remain consistent, I think it’s great!
Just remember, a blue sky remains blue until the plot changes the atmosphere.