6a. Checking for Continuity

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show and noticed the drinks levels on the table change between shots? Or maybe in one shot, a character is wearing a jacket, but in the next – in the same scene – the jacket vanishes? Or even a cup magically changes colors in a scene?  Or a character’s name changes between seasons?

All of these are issues with CONTINUITY, “the maintenance of continuous action and self-consistent detail in the various scenes of a movie or broadcast.” The Script Supervisor’s role in film and TV is to catch these issues before filming is complete and editing begins. But, as I’m sure you’ve seen on your own, this doesn’t always happen.

Of course, in Hollywood, finger-pointing can take place to explain away these issues.  But when you’re the lone author of a novel, a short story, or other work, the responsibility for continuity within your story lies on you. And even though the above definition cites “movie or broadcast,” continuity is equally essential when editing your novel.

6b. Why Continuity Matters 

As a writer, your job is to keep the reader focused on the story and keep them turning the page. This means the story needs to flow, allowing the reader to effortlessly move through the story and not get pulled out because of something that should have been fixed during the editing process.  

As I mentioned in Part One, read and reread your manuscript, strengthening the story, characters, and dialogue and checking for spelling and grammar errors.  On top of that, it’s important to make sure that character names, descriptions, settings, and other permanent aspects within the story are consistent from start to finish.

I like to write varying drafts of different chapters, and sometimes I combine different versions to create a more exciting version of the sequence I’m writing. In doing so, this can cause continuity issues to crop up that need to be addressed to avoid confusion for the reader.

For example, if I write a version where the detectives show up in a black sedan but leave – thanks to a later version of the same chapter – in a green Prius, the change is jarring and pull the reader out of the story.  

The same is true with clothing. If you write a version where a character enters the room and takes off their coat, and then later in the chapter they take a pack of gum from their coat pocket in another part of the house, they either can transport locations, or there’s an issue that needs to be resolved.

Once you make a choice, stick with it.

6c. Tips to Monitor Continuity

One of the easiest ways to keep basic continuity within the story is to have a basic spreadsheet or written list of all the named characters (first, middle, and last), their ages, and a basic description. If the characters drive, add the make, model, and color of their vehicles. If there are homes, workplaces, or major locations in the story, give brief details on the sheet to ensure paint colors and basics are consistent.

Also, be conscious of all characters’ actions during a chapter. What did they do? Did you have them put something down or pick something up? Did someone exit the room? Did they suddenly reappear, or just vanish from the chapter altogether?

If you’re like me and love to do multiple drafts of chapters and sequences, be aware of these changes, and make sure that what has already been established earlier is crafted into the newer version of the chapter or sequence.

So, now you’ve edited, you’ve polished, and you’ve checked your manuscript for continuity. You’re confident in your story, the characters, and the manuscript as a whole. It’s time to release your child to someone else to read and get feedback from.  But who?  Who is this person, and why should you entrust them with your creative work?

We’ll explore these topics and more next week!

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