One necessary component of engrossing, readable fiction is always cohesiveness: and today, as I edit “The Crimson League” for its second edition release this Autumn, I am thinking more and more about the role continuity plays in cohesiveness.
There are so many forms and levels of continuity. A large part of editing–not the whole, certainly, but a large chunk–involves keeping track of and maintaining, or improving, continuity. You could dedicate an editing pass or two JUST to continuity issues. And that’s what I want to discuss today: continuity issues.
What are the major things we authors can look out for as we edit a draft for continuity?
CHARACTER CONTINUITY: PHYSICAL TRAITS
Personality cohesiveness–asking yourself, “would this character, believably, say or do these things?”–is a different issue. I am talking more basic, surface-level things here.
- Does a character’s eye color change from scene to scene?
- Does a character, mid-scene, shift from standing by the door to sitting in a chair?
- Does the way you describe hair length, or height, change without you meaning it to?
Keeping detailed character sheets, and referencing them, is a great way to handle these kinds of issues. If you’re like me and you don’t generally outline before a first draft, such sheets become all the more vital to draw up AFTER the fact, to refer to every time a character is physically described.
SETTING CONTINUITY: WITHIN SCENE
Setting continuity within a scene involves basic things like not transporting characters across the room unintentionally, as mentioned above. It also involves a lot more:
- It’s easy to forget a character is holding something.
- Sometimes a door or window just closes of its own accord. Ghosts! Ghosts I say! Unless you’re writing paranormal fiction, you might not want that. (So who you gonna call?)
- Sometimes furniture, or trees and flowers, or a rug, can appear or disappear without you noticing.
- Doors can change location, or lead to different rooms than you mean them to. (I have totally mixed up left and right in my writing, although I know that in the League’s headquarters, the washroom is to the right. To the RIGHT of the main room….)
- The color, shape, or material of man-made items–carpets, chairs, walls–can also change.
SETTING CONTINUITY: ACROSS SCENES OR EVEN NOVELS
This is perhaps the most difficult kind of physical continuity: keeping track of room arrangements across scenes. All the things that you have to keep track of within scene–wall color, furniture, where doors lead to and how many there are–you need to keep track of across scenes as well, each time a setting is repeated.
If you are writing a series, you might even have settings repeating over novels and across years. This can be a fun opportunity (at least I’ve found it so) to show the passage of time and the marks it leaves over people and places. I really enjoy changing one or two memorable aspects of an important building or room from novel to novel after ten or fifteen years have passed!
A fantastic example: Hogwarts from year to year in the Harry Potter series. How the school is different under new management in book five, with all of Professor Umbridge’s notices getting plastered ALL OVER the place. Or how the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor’s office–physically the same room–looks, smells, and feels entirely different based on who the teacher is that year.
This is always heavy, heavy content editing, so it’s very different from the quick, surface-level details we’ve been talking about so far.
We all know characters, like people, need to change, grow, and develop as they progress through their stories. But those changes shouldn’t necessarily happen all at once, and they should make sense. They should be sensible progressions from who they character is at the start and how he or she adapts to changing circumstances.
ITEM CONTINUITY: WHERE IS THAT THING????
Where did my characters leave that spell book? More importantly, their horses? Do they suddenly have them with them again, without ever going back for them?
And did they just leave a location without taking their sacks with them? My characters, at least in “The Crimson League,” are on the move a lot. So making sure they don’t leave necessary things behind them, when an exit or departure is clearly described, is important.
How has continuity been tough for you to tackle? What mistakes do you find yourself on the lookout for, because you know you’re apt to make them?
Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy Victoria’s other posts about editing. You can also sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.