Be obscure clearly.
– E.B. White
Nothing can be more frustrating to a writer (except maybe writer’s block) and a book editor too, than characters and/or plot starting to display inconsistencies. My favourite when doing manuscript evaluations for clients is the lady with short red hair in Chapter 2 who suddenly appears with long brown hair in Chapter 10. Did she suddenly don a wig? If so, say so…if it is consistent with what this character would do.
Or take these scenarios.
Does Tom suddenly appear in a conversation you thought was between Belinda and Sandra? James has a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital in Chapter 2; in Chapter 3 he is jogging down the street. Does Cathy arrive home in her car when in the previous chapter it was stolen? Then there is the “Who he? Who she? Syndrome” where one character makes a splash appearance near the beginning of the novel, does a disappearing act (from the writing, not the story) for the rest of the novel and then turns out near the end to be the murderer.
I’m struggling with some inconsistencies in my prequel mystery novel. Part of the problem is the novel is complex. So I run into “How did Bast (one of the fraternal private investigators) find out about Y factor or how would he know? Didn’t I have some videotapes back in an earlier chapter? What happened to them? And one character, a TV reporter, who is not a major character and not the killer, has a history with Bast which creates conflict when they meet up after no connection for a year. After hinting at the conflict from this main character’s point of view and a couple of scenes where the two have an actual confrontation in the first half of the novel, “conflict character” all but disappears from the story. I call this inconsistency by deletion.
Readers will pick up on inconsistencies.
What should a writer do?
I’ve touched on this a few blogs ago, but it is important to have a follow-up list of any inconsistencies you notice as you write or pick up later in the first rewrite. Then, you can go back and fix the inconsistencies and mark “done” on the list.
It might also be a good idea to do an ongoing list of your characters and include their conflicts with each other and/or a brief ongoing chapter outline. When you are creating, your organizational skills take a backseat in your brain. This is not the time to multi-task or tell yourself “oh, I’ll remember to bring Tom home in a later chapter,” or “This scenario isn’t going to work with what has happened before.” You also don’t want to stop the creative flow to fix an inconsistency.
How do you keep track of your characters’ interactions, conflicts and location so your final manuscript isn’t full of inconsistencies? Let’s compare notes. We might all learn something new.
Sharon A. Crawford