Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Continuity, especially in a longer novel with a complex plot, can be a real challenge. As the story evolves from the first draft, every aspect of the novel deepens with detail. The setting, from the time of day, time of year, climate, architecture, flora and fauna--the list is almost endless--becomes more defined on the second, third or fourth draft.  What started out as a warm late summer day in Texas becomes a hot, drought starved, dusty day, the ground cracked, grass browned off, the trees aching for moisture.  As the manuscript matures, I keep cycling back to ensure I’m capturing that depth and richness  from the beginning and then with each new chapter.

Detail is not the only ingredient to continuity. Chronology often comes up to bite me.  I’ve started a scene in the morning and within a couple of hours it’s late at night. Or I started in one season and inadvertently shifted to another a few chapters later! 

While I sometimes wonder at the continuity breaks I make as I’m creating a story, these always get caught as each successive draft hones the rough edges--or my editor steps in to point out the error.  

In my humble opinion, the most challenging continuity issue centers around characters, specifically their tone.  Does the fourteen year old grow as a character, but retain the tone of her teenage voice throughout? Does the protagonist and the antagonist retain distinct voices or do they slip into each other’s character? What is tough about character voice continuity is that you essentially have to read the entire manuscript repeatedly to have a chance at noticing slips and breaks in tone.  

In one of my works in progress I have a character who has multiple personalities.  And of course, the tone depends on which personality dominates the character in any given scene.  So I pulled out every piece of dialogue with the character and did a read through of the dialogue alone which was about eighty pages, instead of three hundred fifty in the whole manuscript.  Isolated from the rest of the narrative, I could easily find any breaks in tone.  Now I’m adding this ‘character dialogue isolation’ method to my bag of tricks.

What tricks do you have up your sleeve for ensuring continuity in your novels?  

Richard Hacker

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Big Mike said...

Indeed, it can be difficult to insure consistence across intrigue dominated stories. Given most of my full length novels have enveloping story lines I employ a series of arc/node diagrams, like an elongated spider web that links the events, scenarios and characters back and forth as they evolve and crisscross alone the path of the novel.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

In my novel-in-waiting, my character goes from age 7 to age 41. He reamins himself, but as he matures, his voice is less judgmental, more patient and less plaintive.

I love this feature of writing long fiction. Ain't we got fun. (Said by some- one much older than I.)

Liz Fountain said...

This is one of my biggest challenges. Thanks to Scrivener, the writing software I use, it's super easy to pull out scenes. So I do something similar to what you described, Richard - I'll create a draft that only has scenes with a certain character, read through them in the order they appear in the novel, and check for consistency. Taking out the intervening material really helps me focus.

Also, this is why I adore editors. :-)

Nikki said...

I'm going to borrow your idea of isolating each character's speech to check their tone. Great tip. As for timelines, I use a simple old calendar. Dates don't matter, but I can check that "two weeks later" is in fact the second Wednesday after the first event. For single days, I'll make a list of everything that happens, estimating how long it takes.

Thanks for the nods to editors, too!