Continuity and Consistency
Say you have a group of eight characters. Not all of them are major, but that isn’t important at the moment. At the end of chapter three they have to escape a city and the only way to safely escape is to break into two groups and later meet up at a predetermined location. Group one consists of characters A, B, and C, and they have to escape the city by a land route. They’ll continue to travel by land to the predetermined location. Group two consists of characters D, E, F, G, and H. They have to escape through a waterway that flows through the city. They’ll follow the river to a village where a few of this group’s members have allies that can get a ship for them. Chapter four follows group one as they escape overland to draw their enemies from the trail of group two. Of course, group one loses any pursuers, but through narration and dialogue, characters A, B, and C are all present and accounted for. We get to chapter five and lo and behold, character A, last seen leading group one through the mountains at the end of chapter four, has magically appeared on the ship with group two. This would be fine if there had been a time lapse, and in many ways there was one. However, group two has not yet reached the predetermined place and they’re talking about how long they should wait for group one, since group two will almost certainly arrive first.
At first, I thought character A was there in name only, a typo because his name had been accidentally inserted in place of another character’s. Unfortunately, as the scene unfolded I realized that all of group two’s characters were also accounted for and all were interacting with character A. Not only that, but character A had a major role throughout the chapter. So guess what happened?
Yep, a major rewrite of the entire chapter.
Not all continuity and consistency issues are that major. One author referred to a specific set of objects by certain names near the beginning of the manuscript. They weren’t mentioned again for roughly one hundred pages, but the author called them something else at that point. He seemed happily surprised I caught this, but readers have a tendency to see stuff like that. I admit I had to go back to the first mention of these objects to verify that yes, the names were different, but continuity and consistency are very important.
This is true for sequels as well. Make sure all your characters have the same eye color and hair color as in the previous book, unless there’s a plausible explanation for it to be different. If you write a scene in the previous book from one character’s POV, and then write that same scene in the next book from the POV of a different character, you want to make sure the scenes echo each other. If your character only says two or three word sentences a couple of times in the second book, but in the first book he spoke a total of five times—twice in one sentence consisting of three or four words, once in two sentences, and once in a paragraph consisting of six to ten sentences—then you’ve got a problem. If a character had their hands tied behind their back in the scene in book one, and they’re tied in front of them in book two, you’ve got a problem. The same can be said for the layout of buildings, a school mascot, the name of a significant other’s ex, basically anything that’s pretty much concrete in your story or in your series. If you say it’s May on page ten, you can’t have your character tugging her jacket closer and kicking at the orange leaves littering the ground when your reader gets to page twelve, not without a significant time lapse.
So keep in mind you want to look out for the major continuity and consistency issues as well as the small ones that might only be mentioned twice, a hundred pages apart.