Aint it always the truth that when you’re head down, knee deep in the middle of writing its easy for simple mistakes to creep in. Out of nowhere the hair colour of your main female lead has miraculously changed from blonde to Brunette, your main male character is suddenly swishing his emerald green cloak over his shoulder arrogantly where only a chapter before it was ruby red and the eyes squinting through the lacy veil are all of a sudden black when just a few pages before they were blue pools of liquid ice. But it is not only physicality that can suffer at the hands of a novelist; landscape, location, movements (especially in a fight scene), dialogue and character can be altered to suit the will or due to the inattentiveness of the author, the problem is that as a writer you do so at your peril.
I say this in all seriousness you are asking to be a laughing stock as a writer if in the final edit there are glaring grammatical errors, mistakes in your character description and behaviour and plot holes. Even if you are not King, Hemingway, Rowling or Austen readers quite rightly expect a certain level of accuracy and consistency in your work. Most readers won’t pick up on the occasionally misplaced comma (although the attentive reader and other writers might), but they will notice if the pace and smoothness of your writing is interrupted by errors, if their suspension of disbelief is disturbed by niggles about the way you are portraying the characterisation of the protagonists or antagonists and obvious errors in description, plot etc. As a writer you risk losing potential readers and their willingness to spend their hard earned cash buying any of your future novels. You are not simply the latest book that you have published – you are the product, the brand, the company – and if you damage your reputation it could cost you not only that customer’s sale but the word of mouth sales from recommendations to others.
The by-words here have to be ‘consistency in all things’.
There are five main areas that you need to be aware of inconsistency in:
1) Grammar and spelling errors – tense, misspellings, grammatical misuse of commas, adjectival misuse all come under this heading. My only advise (and it is only advice not a command), hire a professional editor to go over your work to ensure it is of the highest possible standard and ensure that all errors are smoothed out of your ‘baby’.
2) Description – In scenes, the physicality of your characters, location and dress, make sure that you are consistent. There’s nothing more confusing to a reader than if your main female character suddenly changes names from Sue to Sally, or from a luscious red head to having silky blond locks.
3) Plot clots – errors, omissions, holes and logic will all make readers stumble over your words and distract them from enjoying the adventure. Once the reader can see the writer’s hand then the suspension of disbelief is broken and you have fundamentally lost any respect the reader may have had for your talents as a writer.
4) Characterisation – inconsistencies in actions, ideas, beliefs. Making your characters do things that are totally out of character to simply fit the plot fall into this category as does flawed character building, relying on stereotypes, stock characters and cardboard cut-out characters with no depth. Be wary, characters do develop through the novel if it is placed over anything but a very short time period. Characters should develop and so they might well react differently at the beginning of the novel to the way they would react to the same situation as the novel develops, however, you must clearly show the reader this character development to the reader. Above all the reader must go on this journey with the character for that change to have any gravitas, for it to be believable.
5) World building – This obviously applies to some genres to a much greater extent than others. Fantasy and Science Fiction (unless its modern day urban fantasy) requires the writer to create a world from scratch and give it enough complexity that it is believable but not overload the reader with info dumps and exposition. One of my irritations with Star Trek was the gaping holes in the world building of civilisations they encountered. Now don’t get me wrong I identify myself as a proud and out Trekkie, but every minor and major civilisation they sought out through the various franchises (Classic, Next Gen, Voyager, Enterprise, DS 9) the entire planet was one race, all of whom looked exactly the same and shared the exact same culture, religion and traditions. It always seemed so blatantly overly simplistic to me. If there is one thing that has been shown to me in utter clarity in the last few years, it’s that despite our shared humanity we also enjoy many differences. There is no place on earth where the people are all EXACTLY the same.
So make sure your protagonists (and antagonists) stay in character, and make sure you are consistent in all things when you finally release your work to the reading public. No matter how high you rise in the literature hierarchy, readers are unforgiving if your plot or characterisation is weak and inconsistent. They will put you on the pyre just as quickly as the next writer if you present them with a novel that does not take care with the grammar and spelling in your work. Remember ‘Consistency in all things’ you do when writing. That and hire an editor to double check and catch any of those mischievous little grammatical, plot, characterisation and pacing errors.
Happy and productive writing everyone.