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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!

At 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.


  1. Haha, this was a great post 🙂 I changed character names and find that I go back to the original name quite a lot – even though I love the new names much, much more. My readers get VERY confused when it looks like new, random characters have shown up in my WIP, straight out of the blue 😀 Whoops!

  2. Interesting; I never noticed that while I was reading “Wives and Daughters.” What a handy feature the “Find” tool is!

  3. Hey, at lest I”m in good company when I randomly change a character’s name halfway through! Or their age, or their physical features, or just about everything else. I really need to take a few notes!

  4. Great post. Reminds us that we are all human.

    I can’t think of any real embarassing mistakes…except that when I’m typing fast, I will find errors like: there for they’re, or your for you’re, or even course for coarse. These mistakes look silly when you find them. I think my mind works like a thesaurus and picks the first word on the list.

  5. I had 3 characters named Hank in one book. I’ve since started using a spreadsheet to keep track of named characters, but even with that, I noticed (thank goodness) that Lizzy morphed into Lizzie.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

  6. So very true, the worst I had was on the second round of revisions I found a character I had renamed was still referred to by the previous name because of a spelling error in the name. Ow… double whammy.

  7. Once I had a character who had long hair braiding her hair…AFTER she got it cut short. Yeah, consistency is one of the things I really rely on my betas to spot, since I get too close to the story, and stop seeing those details.

    PW, that sounds like an episode of The Office!

  8. I haven’t discovered any terribly embarrassing mistakes yet, but I’m sure I will at some point. I remember reading a cp’s chapter and in one of her scenes the campfire went from blazing, to out, to blazing, and back out again. 🙂

  9. In one of my NaNo drafts, I had a character playing her “foot” instead of her “flute”…

  10. @Marisa: I hate changing character names mid-story, so I only do it when I have no choice – and then Find is my best friend!

    @Abigail: A lot of the recent versions have edited out the inconsistencies.

    @Jen: Most of the time, my problem with inconsistency isn’t the result of a deliberate choice to change something about a character. Usually, I’m just forgetful. :p

    @Loree: I create homonym typos all the time. I didn’t used to, but, interestingly enough, my brain started mixing them up after I suffered a skull injury in an ATV accident several years back.

    @Terry: How funny! I’ve messed up with the different spellings of names before – especially when the names are the complicated specimens often found in historical and speculative stories.

    @PW: Guilty! Find is a fabulous tool, but it can’t overcome human error.

    @Tere: I’ve done similar things myself. In my WIP, I had a character pick up something in each hand – and then, magically, he came up with an extra hand somewhere to do something else.

    @Michelle: Magic fire!

    @Galadriel: Oh, that’s classic!

  11. That is too funny. I found myself doing the same thing of changing a persons name in the middle of the book. A character who died earlier in the manuscript had the same name, and I had not realized it. Therefore, I know first hand how that can be possible. Great post I enjoyed it very much.

  12. I did a post a few months ago about the dangers of giving characters similar names, but it amazes me sometimes that published authors will occasionally be found to give two characters the *same* name. Maybe they’re just forgetful like the rest of us? :p

  13. I changed a character’s name from Jenny to Rebecca so I wouldn’t have two characters whose name began with the letter “J”. I still catch myself calling her Jenny though, so I’ll know I’ll goof eventually and type the wrong name. Before I send it off to agents, I’ll have to use the handy-dandy Find feature.

  14. That’s the problem with changing character names. I still think of the evil bishop in Behold the Dawn as Gregory. When readers start talking about Roderic, I have to stop and remember that I renamed him. :p

  15. Arthur C. Clarke has a character in “2061” who appears just long enough to sabotage a spacecraft, but her name changes three times in as many pages, if I recall correctly. (And, no, she’s not using fake names.)

    I’m very good at remembering niggling details such as this, but I have more serious problems with logic. I’ve got a very small setting in my WIP that inexplicably has a busy five-lane street.

  16. This happened twice in the same draft – I changed the main character’s name from Jacob to Joseph, but continued to call him Jacob. Another character had dark blue hair in one scene, then blond in another. I think I also had a character putting her hair in a ponytail, despite having established that she never wore her hair up. I’ve learned to love the Find tool.

  17. So funny! But poor Elizabeth Gaskell didn’t have Find. We’ve got it easy now…

  18. @Greg: Wow, three name changes in three pages – and in a published story? There’s a tribute to the endurance of typos!

    @Sunlight: Yes, indeed. Ctrl + F is probably the most used shortcut on my keyboard.

    @M: To be fair, she also didn’t live to finish the manuscript (the final chapter is missing), so who’s to say she might not have corrected the mistakes in her final draft?

  19. Timelines – my nemesis. I’ve had several things happening on the same day at the same time. Impossible! Even in fiction.

  20. During an early revision I discovered two characters with rhyming last names. In correcting it I gave one of them the same last name as a third character. Aghhh! Now I use spreadsheets.

  21. @Cathryn: I’m usually pretty good at keeping track of timelines (I use a page from a calendar to keep track of the days), but I just realized my WIP features New Years about halfway through the story – but no Christmas! Whoops.

    @Carol: An author can never have too many notes. Okay, maybe they can. 😉

  22. Oh, they’re usually continuity errors. And I’ll be *so* embarrassed. One recent one: the character was busily chopping an onion and the onion suddenly morphed into a pepper. Good thing the editor caught it. In the same *sentence* it morphed! I must have been totally distracted when I was writing…

  23. Either that or your character is one fast chopper!

  24. Embarrassing moment: writing something published online without paying attention to the super personal details included, like say for example, ripping a friend.

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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

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

  32. 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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