Monday, August 25, 2014


Image by Tammy Strobel, via Flickr
At the end of every movie, in the endless list of credits, you’ll always see Continuity. It’s the job of the continuity people to make sure the hero’s shirt—or the shirt of an extra—doesn’t change colour in the middle of a scene.

Continuity is equally important in a novel, of course, unless you’re Douglas Adams and have just invented an Infinite Improbability Drive, or Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen.

Part of a copy-editor’s job is to spot inconsistencies and confusions. However, most authors want to present a manuscript containing as few of either as possible. At least, I don’t want to get a manuscript back with problems to be sorted out that involve rethinking and rewriting. It’s not always a simple matter like the colour of a shirt.

I’ve just finished writing a book, my 22nd Daisy Dalrymple mystery and my 57th (I think) novel. Before sending it to my editor, I always print out and do a final read-through—I find it much easier and more accurate to edit on paper than on the screen.

In the course of this “final” edit of Superfluous Women, I came upon one of my characters, Vera, wishing she’d never mentioned something she did not in fact mention. I found myself thoroughly confused by two gardeners and where they lived. And then there’s the Mystery of Two Chapter Twenty-sevens...

I’ve also been reading the proofs for the coming reissue (in trade paperback) of my very first mystery, Death at Wentwater Court.

One thing I discovered was that two recurring characters, DS Tring and DC Piper, had developed over the course of the series in a way I hadn’t allowed for in the first book, before I knew them well. Once you get the page proofs, the time for extensive changes is past, but Tom Tring made a comment that I just couldn’t let pass. Luckily I was able to change it in a way that wouldn’t mess up the pagination.

I’d made a mistake on page 3 that a reader happened to point out just at the right moment—I had Daisy travelling in a 2nd class compartment of the train. The book is set in 1923, and the railways dropped 2nd class in 1875. Come to think of it, I ought to see if I can get that corrected in the ebook.

Otherwise, the necessary changes were pretty much just typos, though I did think for a while that I had my detectives driving the wrong cars about the countryside. I had to do quite a bit of rereading to sort out that I’d got it right the first time.

Whew! They’re both out of my hands now.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.


  1. I recently got caught with the continuity thing and had to do some fixin' in the stand-alone book that unexpectedly morphed into a series. Confusion isn't as big an issue, but it does raise its ugly head now and then.

  2. Great post on an issue most of us don't think of. I had a name continuity problem. In the first book of my series, when I didn't know it was a series, I named someone who turned up in the third book. Problem was, I wanted that person to have a certain name in book 3, and I couldn't let the name go. He was a hacker in the first book, though he played piano on the side. In the third book, he's an entertainer only, and uses the name I wanted as a stage name. I seriously doubt anyone reading the first book would have caught the name change in the third, but I knew. I hope I pulled it off. Don't know yet because #3 won't be published until September.

  3. I was forced into considering this issue when writing my fantasy trilogy. Over the 3 books, I developed well over 100 named characters and had three story threads weaving through and round each other. Keeping track of who was were, what they looked like and how they would act was a major concern. I solved the problem by producing a spreadsheet as a timeline, with the dates across the top and the cast down the side. Each character was hyperlinked to his/her character sketch so I could easily check on aspects of appearance and personality. And, as I wrote the books, I entered a brief note of each character's contribution in the appropriate cell. It took some setting up, but without it the task would have been impossible. Even with this tool to help, I managed to miss the death of one character off the spreadsheet and only discovered I'd killed him off when my wife, who does my beta reading, explained that I couldn't have X doing this, as I'd killed him off 16 chapters earlier! Thank heavens she has an excellent memory. I know this scheme won't help everyone, but with a large cast, it really can work very well.
    Thanks for an interesting post, Elle.

    1. That should be 'where' of course! Typos!

    2. So far I've managed to avoid having anyone return from the dead. Sounds as if you've gone about things very efficiently, Stuart.

    3. The efficiency of necessity, I think, Carola.

  4. When I revise a book, I break it down into separate documents, saving a copy as Character A, B, C, etc and Setting and Dialogue. In each document I delete everything but the descriptions/dialogue. Reading them jammed together like that makes it easier to catch continuity errors. However, I always advise a few good readers or your crit group to help catch what your mind glosses over. This might help for a series as well. Make a separate folder for each character and copy in everything you said about them into it and review it and take notes when you start a new book.

  5. debby turner harrisAugust 27, 2014 at 3:40 AM

    Keeping track of continuity is an occupational repetitive strain issue. It's why writers (and editors) go grey faster than most people.

  6. I kept meaning to write a series Bible, but never got around to it. Thanks to having electronic copies of my manuscripts, I can search for characters (I do keep a spreadsheet of names, but I need more). I discovered that a throwaway line in Book 1 totally changed the way I had to write Book 4 -- In book 1, my protagonist said, "I told Grinch not to use his kid's birthday as a password." Book 4 was Grinch's book, and all of a sudden I was faced with writing a romance hero with a kid.

  7. The "best" way of dealing with continuity issues that I have seen in sin Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series -- any time there is any contradiction of "facts" (though not stated by the author and has to be inferred by the reader) is that the ChronoGuard have been at work and that 30,000 seat croquet stadium can easily become a 40,000 seater and revert back to 30,000 or some other number.
    (still wondering about sir stephen's boots **grin**)
    sometime you'll have to post the Tring comment so that those of us who won't replace our current book with the re-issue will know the change you made :-)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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