Consistency when writing a novel—actually, when writing anything—is an essential ingredient to creating a strong story. Your writers might get a little frustrated if you spend half the story telling them that your protagonist’s bedroom is the second door on the right and then suddenly start saying it’s the third door on the right, or perhaps you mentioned they have blue eyes at the beginning of your novel and somewhere during your story they suddenly change to green eyes. These little things may not seem like much, but when you write a novel you create a world that the reader gets drawn into, somewhere they can totally immerse themselves, and when you introduce inconsistencies into your story, it takes away from your world and severs, or at least tarnishes, the link your reader has to it.
Some of you might be thinking you’d never let a silly mistake such as a character’s eyes changing colour slip into your story, but you’d be surprised. Writing a novel generally takes months, even years, and during that time you can forget little pieces of the story you’ve written, such as what your character’s favourite colour is, but these are the types of things your readers will pick up on, as some of the more voracious ones might devour your book in a day or two, keeping careful track of every part of your world, noticing the slightest inconsistency. This makes editing for inconsistencies very important. Some areas to pay close attention to include:
Ensure that details about your characters, such as the spelling of their name and their appearance, remain consistent. Also ensure their actions match their personality. For example, if you have a very timid character who is terrified of getting into trouble at school, it would be very out of character for them to skip class with their friends, unless a rational was provided, such as an FBI agent showed up and told them they needed to come with them because their parents were really secret agents who were now missing. Far-fetched, yes, but hopefully you get the idea.
Point of View (POV):
This is the point of view of who is telling the story. There is first person (I, me); second person (you)—very rare; and third person (he, she). The POV can be told from one character’s POV (limited), or it can be told from multiple characters’ POV (rotating). Whichever you choose, you have to make sure you stick with it. You can’t start off in first person and then later change to third person, just as you can’t start a story with a rotating POV and then change to limited—unless, of course, all the other characters meet an untimely end.
This one is pretty self-explanatory: if your character happens to have a garden that grows sunflowers, they can’t suddenly change to daisies. Just as if your character happens to have a messy bedroom with clothes strewn everywhere, they can’t suddenly have a neat bedroom with not a single thing out of place—unless someone cleaned it, of course.
Style relates to how you tell a story: word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, spelling, punctuation etc. Pay close attention to word choice, spelling, and punctuation. These tend to be the areas that most writers succumb to inconsistencies. For example, if you refer to a lounge as a lounge, keep referring to it as a lounge, avoid suddenly calling it a sofa or a couch—avoid thesaurus syndrome. If you decide to use Australian spelling over American spelling, make sure you stick to Australian spelling—don’t let words such as realize or honor slip in there. As for punctuation, well, there are plenty of instances when you can use punctuation marks based on your own choice of style. For example, using the Oxford comma (an optional comma that comes before the word ‘and’ or ‘or’ at the end of a list). If you decide not to use the Oxford comma, then make sure you keep consistent with that choice throughout, and visa versa. It’s the same with using a comma before ‘too’ when it ends a sentence. If you choose to use this optional comma, then ensure you use it throughout your novel and not sporadically.
A few other areas to consider when checking for consistency in style include numbers: keeping consistent with whether you spell numbers or use numerals—the general rule is to spell out numbers up to a hundred and then use numerals after that. Capitalisation is another area to pay close attention to: if you capitalise particular words such as breeds of animals and plants, then make sure you capitalise them throughout your entire story.
Now you can see just how easy it is to let inconsistencies slip by. One thing I would suggest, particularly when remaining consistent with style, is to write a list of your stylistic choices, such as using a comma before ‘too’ when it ends a sentence, or how you spell particular words that might have multiple spellings, such as ‘gray’ and ‘grey’ or ‘among’ and ‘amongst’. I’d also suggest keeping a list of setting descriptions and characters’ appearances—something your trusty character development worksheet can help you with (http://auroranaturally.com.au/how-to-bring-your-characters-to-life/). Keeping a list of these types of things will offer a helpful guide as you work your way through your story.
Sarah, Editor at Aurora House