Friday, 29 July 2011

Other Sorts of Consistency

The last couple of posts I looked at consistency with POV, but there are other sorts of consistency.  Pretty obvious is consistency of characterisation details - if their eyes are blue on p4, then they need to be blue on p6.  Watch out for words like delicate or swarthy which indicate a particular physical look.  

The same is true for locations.  Watch out if you've done a lot of editing because bits can be left behind without your noticing.  For example, in one of my books I started with a farmhouse kitchen location. Later I changed it to a modern house with a sleek designer kitchen.  I remembered to alter most of the details except the oak beams that were left in the ceiling (luckily my agent spotted them). 

Then there is character consistency.  If a character is  coward all along, they can't suddenly be brave unless you show why.  I was reading a post from Kate Walker that said the one of the main stumbling blocks for romantic manuscripts was when characters who had been at loggerheads with each other throughout the ms suddenly declared their love, leaving the reader feeling there was no basis for such a sudden change.  So characters can change, but the reasons why have to be shown and the change has to be plausible ie consistent with their range. A timid person might conquer their fear and give a public speech, but they won't suddenly transform into a life-and-soul-of-the-party type in the rest of their life.  

There needs to be consistency within structure too.  A bit like the first post on POV, you can do what you like in terms of setting a pattern with the structure, but then you need to stick to it.  So you could, for example, alternate between locations or times, or have diary entries or whatever you liked, but having set a pattern the reader would expect you to follow it.  If you suddenly change it needs to be explained.  At the end of Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man the means of delivering the story has to change, but I still had a slight feeling of disappointment.  

If there appears to be no pattern the reader will trust that by the end of the book you will have revealed that there actually was a pattern after all - Kate Atkinson does this brilliantly in her recent Jackson Brodie novels from Case Histories onwards. (Having said that, with Started Early, Took My Dog I'm still confused about where the stake-out at the beginning of the story fitted in. And who was the little girl in the end?)

Consistency within genre follows on from structure.  If you start out as a techno-thriller, the reader will be disappointed/baffled if you end up with a historical romance.  Or vice versa. That's obviously an extreme example, but there are many sub-genres even within literary fiction.  It's one of the reasons why you should be reading lots so you automatically recognise consistency within the area you're writing.  

Be consistent is a rule, but at least you get to set what the rules of consistency are.

2 comments:

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

I'm going through this process right now, analysing the structure of my story purely for the logical flow, and consistency of details. It's hard to do all at once, so I break it down by story thread. I go one character at a time, attempt to get right into their heads and see their role through their eyes, and check everything in that way. It's hard to do but providing you don't allow yourself to get distracted by other opportunities to polish, you should pick everything up.

Cutting and pasting is full of pitfalls. The other day I found half a word between two sentences. I have no idea what I'd been doing, but the logic around the half word worked, so I deleted it and moved on.

I wonder, Sara, if you/your publisher has any plans to put your books out on Kindle?

Sarah Duncan said...

What you're doing sounds a great way of editing and improving character development at the same time. I've done that for a couple of characters, but never every one - I'll have to try it.

Another problem with cutting and pasting is you can get duplications, esp of what you think are good bits!

Re my e-rights I'm waiting to see what happens over the next couple of months before I decide. My publisher is keen but I think the business is moving so fast it feels right to be cautious before signing rights away. I may well be wrong about this!