Laura Smith

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Editing for Continuity

Posted by lsmith335 on July 9, 2012 at 8:00 PM

In editing my latest novel, I'm finding a lot of continuity errors in my work. I blame this on the fact that I wrote this one totally out of order and then pieced it all together like a quilt. Now, I'm finding that dates aren't working out, characters' physical features change from chapter to chapter and out names of locations that I have changed still pop up.

I have found this to be a real setback in the editing process, though writing it out of order kept me motivated during the writing process. I didn't feel like I had hills to climb in linking events together. I could write what came to mind until I had the frame of the story,  and it made the connecting scenes much easier to dream up.

Now, in the editing process, though, there is work to do. It's necessary to check for continuity no matter how long your piece or how you've written it. You can't remember every detail that you have written down or every change that you've made.So, you have to start at the beginning and read the whole thing through, noting every detail and making sure it all adds up.

A few tips that have helped me during this tedious step:

* Make a timeline of events either while you're writing or as you edit. I do mine calendar style, writing in specific events on each date to keep track of when or who did what within the timeframe of the story. So far, my stories have taken place in no more than a span of a few months, but there are also events that have occurred before that I like to note as well, just to remind myself of how to reference them within the actual story being told. This is especially helpful in determining how far back events took place in relation to the age of a character. You don't want to have someone graduating from college when they're five years old, unless they are some kind of super genius.

* I've found the search function on Word to be helpful whenever I want to change the name of a person, place or thing that I've referenced more than once. That button has kept me from having to scan ever line of prose to pull out one name and insert another. Since I change names a lot, this has saved me hours of work.

* Don't try to remember where you have mentioned a specific detail and look only for those scenes to chnage. DO the work and check the entire piece for this reference. You may have made a brief mention of it in a totally unrelated scene that you do not remember.

* I like to make sketches of my main characters and label their physical features along with basic information about them. This helps to prevent me from changing a hair color or middle name without remembering to go back and fix it elsewhere.

* I make maps of locations. In my latest book, I've made a map of the entire neighborhood, marking specific homes and businesses on the map and labeling every street so that I know which direction to point my characters in when they maneuver around the town.


Please leave a comment and share your continuity tips. I'm especially interested in hearing other ways that technology can aid in this process.

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