Cloak, Cape or Hood: Writing Consistent Fiction

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In this January 6, 2013 NPR interview, John Sandys talks about inconsistencies in movies that were released in 2012:

Well, I think ’cause “Men in Black 3” travels back and forth in time, it means you’ve got a whole host of factual mistakes as well, which it opens itself up to. One which jumped at me was in Cape Canaveral in 1969, we see the flag of Spain waving, but it’s the wrong flag. It’s the current era flag, not the 1969-era flag. I mean, it’s hardly a major research job. I don’t know whether they thought it wasn’t worth looking into or they just thought, well, no one will care.

This week, I am doing a final pass through of a novel and finding tons of inconsistencies.

For example, the main character shows up in a cloak and a scarf wrapped around her head. But at the beginning of the next scene, which is a direct follow-up, she throws back her hood and takes off her cloak. In another scene, she is described as wearing a cape.

(I know: Capes are soooo out of style.)

Reading and revising for consistency of details is different than reading for story. Here are a few tips:

  1. Put on your editor’s hat. This isn’t the time to worry about the story line, characterization, plot or those other big issues. Instead, you need to be very logical and you need to pay attention. That requires a different mindset.
  2. Take notes. I use sticky notes, but you could use just a sheet of paper to jot notes. As I read along, I jot down anything that sounds fishy to me, or I am uncertain of consistency through out the manuscript: numbers, names, eye color, hair color, peculiar or unusual wordings, etc. For complicated books or series, some suggest a Story Bible, or a place where you record all such details. For this story, I didn’t feel the need for something that structured. But in an upcoming series, I will definitely go that route.
  3. Timeline. Lots of what I am doing this week is tightening the time line. I had to cut some scenes and that left my character at a loss for an afternoon and evening. So, I moved some scenes to fill in those spaces. Often, I will literally fill in a calendar for the final timeline (after the major revisions), and often it will be hour by hour. I know I planned it all out before, but the revisions make a difference. So, I do it again.
  4. Words and phrases. I also make sure I haven’t repeated a word or phrase too often. It’s hard to describe how this one works, but you sorta have a watcher in your head paying attention to how a story is told. And it will go, “Whoa! Stop right there, little missy.” So, I stop and correct. It’s paying attention to the difference between work table and workbench.
  5. Logic. It’s important for every action to be in the correct time order and to be logical. Clarity rules on this pass through. You can’t hit a ball with a bat if you haven’t picked up a bat first.

Of course, I am making these types of decisions as I write the manuscript, but I’ve found I need one last run through. What else do you check for in your last pass through a manuscript?

1 Comment
  • Lisa D.
    August 22, 2013

    In this age of word processing (both a blessing & a bane), I look for errors caused by cutting and pasting, like doubled punctuation (periods, commas), missing or repeated words, and jumbled thoughts. The same is true for errors caused by switching formats back and forth, from a Mac to a PC or Pages to WORD.