follow a rookie writing his first novel

a word on inner consistency

When we first start to tell a story keeping the events in the right order is no big deal. However as the word count rises so does the probability of getting events or conversations out-of-order. Even one of my literary heroes Carlos Castaneda fell foul of this when he invented the mythos surrounding his meetings with the enigmatic shaman Down Juan Mathus. It was DeMille who first pointed out that his diary dates and events did not hold true. So how can this happen?

I think part of the problem stems from having an overall idea of the story which while not fully defined, we carry round in our head while writing. It can be all to easy then to allow a character knowledge of an event which either has not happened yet, or more subtly, which they could not yet know about.

Then again, inconsistency might creep in if we have a couple of weeks rest from the story. It is not all that easy to pick up all the threads straight away (especially with my aging brain). I’m sure there are lots of other reasons just waiting to trip me up in the months to come.

As I get further into the novel I find this a growing problem. I just noticed a bit part character which I started off by calling Kevin has miraculously turned into Steve! Now I shall have to go back to find out where this name change happened.

I have thought of other measures I might take, such as background notes giving more detail to the locations, characters and events. I might also construct a timeline of events with times and dates. Although Writeitnow4 supports this, it all seems like a lot of work but at the moment I cannot think of a viable alternative.

So, what do you do on works of over 30,000 words? How do you avoid these inconsistencies?



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5 thoughts on “a word on inner consistency

  1. One thing I’m always particularly aware of is time. For example, if two characters are together at noon and then split up until they reconnect at three, they each need to have done three hours of stuff in the interim. I once had to cut a really nice scene for that reason. (This may be a particular problem in mystery stories, because mystery readers tend to check those sorts of things to make sure you’re not cheating.)

  2. I just realized I didn’t actually answer the question. I avoid the problem (and my longest work is around 170,000 words) by winging it and hoping for the best.

    There is at least one continuity glitch in the back story of one of my characters. I live in hope that someday I’ll have a reader attentive and devoted enough to find it. 🙂

  3. Read again. Panic. Write a new outline. Agonize. Question self worth. Write another outline. Write again. Leave. Agitate. Repeat.

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