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Does Your Story Maintain Consistency in the Details?

detailsMost authors are aware of how important it is to avoid plot holes and inconsistencies. But sometimes the little discrepancies bedevil us more than the large ones.

You’d think, as authors, we would be so close to our own stories we would instantly realize the error of calling a minor character by a different name the second time he appears. You’d think we would see our protagonists so clearly we’d never make the mistake of giving them blue eyes in one scene and brown in the next. But the truth of the matter is: it happens!

Wives and Daughters Elizabeth GaskellAt least, in the days before such handy features as Word’s Find tool, authors had more of an excuse for their forgetfulness. For example, Elizabeth Gaskell’s beloved classic Wives & Daughters, published posthumously in 1866, is rife with niggling inconsistencies.

  • She blithely—and, one would presume, obliviously—changed one character’s name from Sally to Dorothy to Clarinda and back again.
  • Another character’s surname darted between Fitzpatrick and Kirkpatrick.
  • The local tavern was called the George in one scene and the Cumnor Arms in another.
  • And the opposing political alignments of two prominent families flip-flopped between Whig and Tory somewhere in the middle of the book.

Ultimately, every story inevitably contains mistakes no matter how many objective eyes have read it. The good news in all of this is that if you write as well as Gaskell, your readers will likely forgive you. But that doesn’t negate the author’s responsibility to seek out inconsistencies.

Write yourself copious notes, check and double-check yourself, and ask beta readers and critique partners to be on the watch for errors. Your readers will thank you—and you’ll be able to avoid embarrassing discoveries later on.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What’s the most embarrassing mistake you’ve ever discovered in your own writing? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. The Internet can seem like such a super-private echo chamber that we can forget it’s anything but. Everything posted on the Internet has the potential of living on (and on and on) in infamy.

  2. I am a shocker for changing names.

    For this reason i write in scrivener with the list of names next on the book outline page. that way EVERY time i mention a character i just look at it. Much better than scraps of paper.

    very early on when i wasn’t sure about the names, i called the “female lead” and “male lead” that way every time i saw that i knew i had to pop the correct name in.

    I just like changing names. God help my editor (when i get one of course…)

    Sarah Ketley

  3. I’m a visual learner, so I do best with details when I’m able to connect them with images. I’ll often find a picture of a character, save it under the character’s name, and refer to it whenever I need to double-check the name.

  4. Very good post. Mistakes – I forgive myself for the couple of editorial mistakes in my book because most slip by even the best editors. As far as my mistakes – I tend to type fast when leaving a comment and instead of hitting “preview” hit “post” then realize I’ve left out punctuation in my haste.

  5. My grammar Nazi side comes out in editing novels, but I admit I’m just as prone as the next person to hit “submit” on a comment or tweet before properly proofreading it.

  6. Grammer Nazi is a horrible way to describe something. No one should us the term “Nazi” unless they are describing a fascist nation that comitted genocide against the Jews and made a bid to take over the world.
    Honorable and Respectfully,
    Silent Running

  7. Actually, I don’t like the term either. It implies a pursuit of correct spelling and grammar is overbearing and Pharisaical.

  8. Well. The biggest mistakes I’ve caught in my WIP so far (there’s probably more) are
    1) A supporting character keeps switching name between Kayla and Kayleen.
    2) My MC’s bedroom in the Imperial palace moves from 3rd floor to second floor and back again more times than I care to count….

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