Consistency is remembering to account for the fact that your heroine is still trudging around in snow when you mentioned back in chapter such-n-such that it is, in fact, snowing.  (Though I grew up in a snowy state, it’s easy to forget details like this when you’ve spent the past 16 years of your life in a snow-less desert.)

Consistency is fixing that reference to your characters being able to make out the expressions on each other’s faces when only 500 words earlier you said the light switch wasn’t working in the room.

Consistency is making sure you spell a name the same way twice, thrice, four times…seven times…a hundred times–even after halfway through the story you’ve decided to change it.

Consistency is continuously imposing your decision to have characters with special abilities display certain physical effects (emit a certain odor, a change in eye color, whatevs)…every time there’s a new scene in which they use their powers.

Consistency is a devil, and the devil is in the details, as they say.

But Don’t Overdo It

One of the challenges I’m facing with my story revolves around the constant rendering of my characters’ defining traits and gradual changes…without sounding like a broken record.

Good characterization is tough.  I read a lot of reviews on other author’s works and characterization is one of those things that the author is either lauded for (“I loved such-n-such’s character!  He’s so real!”) or criticized for (“How many times does he need to say ‘bloody’?”).  Too much of one thing and people are all over it; too little and your characters run the risk of being cardboard.  It’s partly an issue of balance that has to be sorted out while editing; there’s no way you can keep track of the frequency of little characterizations when you have to focus on first getting the entire story down on the page.  (I can’t, anyway.)

A lot of the fixes I’ve been making lately on the first half of my edits (remember the scary stack of notes I was talking about before?) are mostly consistency checks.  It’s like I have to do one sweep for fixing plot issues, another for consistency with smaller details and then eventually another round for line edits.  This whole project has been a big experiment in discovering my own writing process and learning what does and doesn’t work.  (One thing that doesn’t work is trying to do line edits on your first sweep; don’t even waste your time with stylistic changes until everything else is solid.)

So yeah.  Though it took me longer than it should have, I’m just about done with integrating the suggested changes noted in The Stack.  Now I can focus on editing the remaining 100K words of the novel without said Stack piling higher and glaring at me.

*grumbles things*

In any case, I’ve really got to get back to a regular rhythm of editing ’cause I still got a lot of work ahead of me.  And folks, this is the year to finish Element 7 and start querying agents–well, after hitting up my beta readers.  Though I’m sure I’ve got plenty left to learn, I’m feeling confident enough in my writing now to know that it’s nearing time to start putting myself out there.  It’s only been five years in the making, but hey, no one learns to write a novel overnight.

What are your thoughts on consistency and characterization?

Also, how goes those writing projects?


18 thoughts on “Consistency

  1. I think this is the biggest challenge of writing a novel. It’s hard not to repeat yourself. The characters and your ideas about them also tend to change over the course of the novel especially if it’s taken many years. There’s no easy solution to it!

    My writing’s going ok. It’s nice to be back to a first draft. I was really tired of editing. MMM maybe I shouldn’t say that. Editing is so much fun! YAY! I miss it already! (only no I don’t)


  2. All’s I can say is: yep, consistency is important.

    I encountered a consistency error just yesterday in my notes for my current WIP-novel. At a certain key point in my history document an important event was taking place in the year “1047” of that world’s calendar. Then, all-of-a-sudden, the next set of events was taking place in “1028”, and later references to the earlier important even referred to the year “1027”. Somehow, I’d lost 20 years of history out of nowhere!

    So I had to go back and edit my history document to reset all the latter references 20 years forward in time, and then whack 20 years off a “XXX Hundreds of Years Later…” reference that followed, in order to get the timeline back to right.


    • Oh boy, dates.

      For the longest time I debated whether or not to use a dating system in the actual story. I wanted to convey the passage of time, but I didn’t want readers preoccupied with numbers. (There’s already so much else to keep track of.) In the end I decided to just refer to things in approximate years and centuries, sometimes even seasons, but initially it did help to write out a timeline of important events.

      I think I had a similar case of some odd years disappearing without me noticing once, heh. Luckily, the story didn’t really hinge on any of that between time. Like you said, just had to make sure any references to that time period were corrected.


      • Yeah, the date references were mostly for purposes of my notes. Where the main character lives, the official calendrial system of this world has not been in use for a long time – so dates in that way would be meaningless to her. But another character might think about dates…

        All in all, I don’t plan to make a big deal of the actual dates in the story itself… but I need to make sure I have things straight… and I may want to litter contextual clues in the book’s matter for those that are interested…


  3. It’s tough when you start off envisioning someone/something one way or not too clearly at all, and then X chapters later your vision clears or changes and you’ve got to go back and make sure everything jives. (‘Cause if you don’t find it, you know some other reader will.) I ran into at least two such instances in my recently-completed draft; one guy’s lips went from full to thin, another guy’s hair darkened from coffee-brown to black… Just another little nuisance that contributes to the greater joy of writing. X)


    • Yeah! That’s so frustrating, when things change and you have to back and “update” it. But then when they’re easy fixes it’s kinda fun to just go Find > ??? > Replace > ______, etc. “Yep, replace that one. Nope, skip. Skip. Replace.”

      Steady, mind-numbing monotony is sometimes welcome in the midst of ever-shifting chaos, heh. For me, anyway.


  4. I think details are important. I get caught on eye color sometimes, mostly because I seldom specify characters’ eye color (I guess because I never notice eye color in the real world). So, if I want to mention a character’s eye color, I have to go do research and see if I mentioned that’s character’s eye color two books before.

    There is a continuity problem in my stuff, and I can’t fix it (it’s in two novels, both of them done), so I just wait (eagerly) for a reader who’s attentive enough to spot it. It would be really cool to have a reader who reads my stuff that closely. 🙂

    But I think you’re right, with characterization it’s easy to go too far. Characters should surprise us, because people surprise us. We surprise ourselves sometimes, and I certainly have characters who have surprised themselves. That’s good. It has to be plausible, of course, but I think the greater danger is to be too rigid. Particularly if the work covers a span of time (months, years, decades). If it covers a few hours or a couple of days, then you can have fewer changes in the character.

    Oh, and to Stephen’s point, once I had to set up a spreadsheet to track characters’ ages, because if Character A is around 20 and meets Character B when Character B is in her teens, pregnant with Character C, when A meets C fifteen years later, A has to be the right age. 🙂 It’s easy to slip up on that.


    • “There is a continuity problem in my stuff, and I can’t fix it (it’s in two novels, both of them done), so I just wait (eagerly) for a reader who’s attentive enough to spot it.”

      Ha! Like TV show fans that are like, “Hey! There was a glass of milk on that table just a minute ago. Where’d it go? GOOF!

      Yeah…that’s something to look forward to as a published author. -__-


        • That’s true. I’ve always felt that different people bring out, or even suppress, different aspects of my personality. Though, it’s not something I tend to plan or think about initially; it just kind of happens–after which I can observe and analyze the outcome. The same is true for me when it comes to main or viewpoint characters, so consistency with them is a tricky thing, imo.

          I was writing the rest of my response and soon realized it’d be better to save it for an actual blog post, lol, so I’ll just do that next time I blog. 🙂


  5. This is where another pair of eyes if absolutely invaluable. They will find these little inconsistencies that I’m “blind” to. Beta readers are helping me out right now. But after taking a little break (one whole week), I’m still going back and finding a few little oopsies in my 400+ pages.

    One of them was glaring. In one chapter, I mention a room with no windows. Maybe eight or nine chapters later, I have a character smashing through this “non-existent” window in that same room!



  6. Like T. S. said, it is indeed tricky, and that’s why so many drafts are needed. You’ll go through your novel several times before you send it to betas, then a couple after that. You’ll probably be tired of reading it, but your agent and your editor will more than likely want rewrites.

    Even if you don’t notice too much or too little consistency, someone will bring it to your attention. I’ve learned that different betas pick up different things, so it’s good to have quite a few of them. 🙂


    • Sounds like the beta phase should be interesting then, heh. More and more I’m looking forward to passing this over to someone else to nick-pick, if only to give my eyes a (temporary) rest!


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