When I was invited as a guest author for a homeschool co-op class “Vermont Authors and Artists,’ someone asked me,
“How do you make sure that your details stay consistent and that you avoid loopholes it the story line?”
She then mentioned that a story she had read recently, which included a detail about one character, but later associated the same detail with another character. Clearly, the author had forgotten which character the detail was supposed to apply to!
I responded to the question with the first of my tips below, but since that time, I have realized that I also employ two other techniques to ensure the consistency and continuity of my storyline.
Keep notes about important details.
Create basic notes before you even begin the story, then modify and add to them as needed as your story progresses. If I am following several characters who must meet up again later in the story, I create a timeline to ensure that the time spent on their adventures match. If a story spans several years, I make notes of my characters’ ages at various stages of the story. I also often create character profiles like this one:
Name: Trey Victor (from The Memory)
Eyes: Dark chocolate
Build: Lean muscle, broad shoulders
Personality: Protective, competitive, loyal, compassionate
Dream: To become a Knight like his father
Strengths: Honesty, perseverance
Weaknesses: Quick temper, fear of failure
Review periodically as you write.
Every few chapters, I reread what I have written so far. This reminds me of:
A quick scan of my last chapter before I commence my next chapter helps me to get into the “groove” of my work-in-progress.
Let the story sit for 6 months, then reread it.
After 6 months, you have forgotten a lot of the details and you can evaluate your story from the perspective of a reader. When I identify a consistency during a re-read, I highlight the text and continue to read. Once I have finished my review, I return to the highlighted text and rework it to be more consistent with the rest of the story. It is important not to rework the story during the review, because you will get bogged down in the details again and lose your perspective as a reader. Complete your review as a reader, then switch to “author mode” and begin your revision.
A Final Tip
To these 3 tips, I add a final thought: an extra pair of eyes is essential. Choose a trusted friend, someone who will give you both honest feedback and appropriate encouragement. Ask him/her to mark any loopholes or misplaced details.
Hopefully, amongst the 3 checks and the extra help from your friend, you will never give your reader a reason to crow, “Aha! The author made a blooper!”
What do you do to improve consistency in your story?