In a previous blog post, I discussed the value and importance of accuracy, making sure the facts you use in your novel are accurate, because if they are not, your readers will know — and they’ll let you know. In the same vein, you need to make sure that you are consistent throughout your book and, if you keep going, throughout your series.
If the protagonist has a Winchester at the beginning of the book, make sure it’s not switched to a Henry at the end — unless the change is explained as part of the story. Readers are fine if you just say “rifle,” but not if you switch guns on them.
Be consistent with names as well. I’ve read too many books where a character will be called John at the beginning, but then it switches to Jim later in the book. It’s upsetting to the reader and takes them out of the world you are trying to create and draw them into.
In addition to getting the names correct, make it easy on the reader. If a character’s name is, say, Beverly Johnson, determine how you’re going to refer to her and then stick to it. Bev? Beverly? Mrs. Johnson? Johnson? It’s not that everyone in the book has to refer to her the same way. For instance, you can have any children in the book call her Mrs. Johnson, her friends call her Beverly, and her husband call her Bev. You can even have a single person change the way they address her as their relationship progresses. It can start as Mrs. Johnson, grow into Beverly and eventually become Bev, each name change signifying a deepening relationship. That is a part of character development and a subtle way to bring the reader along with your story.
It is also important that the consistency extend not just to your first novel, but to any subsequent novels if you’re creating a series. My Brock Clemons series now has six volumes and two additional volumes of related short stories, so I have written hundreds of thousands of words about my characters. I’m asking my readers to come along on this journey, to invest in the characters I’ve created, so it’s my responsibility to make sure that hair colors, ages, favorite foods, childhood stories, nicknames, preferred weapons and shared experiences with other characters all remain consistent.
If Huck is fourteen years old in one book and sixteen in the next, two years better have passed, because many of the readers will notice. At the same time, if Huck starts out at fourteen and two books down the road I mention that he’s sixteen, two years better have passed.
There are two excellent ways to help avoid making mistakes of consistency.
One, as discussed in an earlier entry, is to use writing software to keep track of the facts as you share them with the reader. I use Storyist, but there are others that I’m sure are very good as well. If I give a date, a specific weapon or any other fact about a character, I add it to Storyist and can go back and check (I no longer trust my memory!) any time I want.
The second way is to write a book or series like my Caz: Vigilante Hunter series. I offer very few facts, and Caz is the only character who moves from one book to the next. He has one name, Caz, and carries two Colt 1851 Navy Revolvers. If I can remember those two things, I’m golden.
No matter which way you choose to go, or how you choose to manage it, respect your readers enough to stay consistent!
I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].
Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!