OOPS! Continuity in Your Novel

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Let’s say that Marilyn is introduced in Chapter 1 of your novel as a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty. But in Chapter 10 when she reappears, she’s a brunette. Oops! It’s a break in continuity.

How does that happen? I was once in a school library where the librarian was administering Accelerated Reader tests, which text a student’s comprehension. I asked if I could take the test for my novel, The Wayfinder. I’m embarrassed to say, but I almost missed a question! That’s because I see the novel as a process, and at one point, I had changed the plot point in the question. I had to think hard to remember the FINAL version.

The process of revision is messy and sometimes, it results in several versions of the story in your head. So, it’s easy to remember that Marilyn was a brunette in an earlier version. The final draft that goes to the editor or is indie published, though, must have continuity.
Oops! It's hard to keep track of characters and other details in your novel. I love these tips for making it easier. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

Strategies to Maintain Continuity in Your Novel

I’m about to start writing Book 3 of a trilogy, where I’ll face this problem.
Here are some strategies I’ll use:

  • Re-read. My first task is to reread Books 1 and 2 so the details are in my short-term memory. I’ll try hard to pay attention to those pesky details, and at least remember if something occurred in Book 1 or 2.
  • Search. I’m working in Scrivener, which means all three novels are in the same folder. It’s simple to search for a detail: blond v. brunette. Or simply search on the character’s name and reread just that part. Scrivener is easier than opening three Word files to do the same thing.
  • Notes. Notes are helpful for very complicated things. I know some people advocate a series Bible, or a notebook or file that includes all the details of each character. I find that a time-waster, besides being impossible to keep updated. My drafts are too fluid for that. However, it’s a strategy that might work for some. Instead, I might have a one-page sheet with notes about a character important in the scene I’m writing.
  • Outside reader. Critique partners, editors, copy-editors–these are wonderful people in a writer’s toolbox. I have a couple friends who are excellent at catching my OOPS! moments in a story. They are coming to the story fresh and don’t have those leftover remnants of confusing memory.

If you still find continuity goofs, not to worry! Even the big boys make mistakes sometimes.

How do you make sure there’s continuity?

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