Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

The Series Series, Part 4: Continuity

Despite scrupulous editing, some of the most successful series of all time feature notable inconsistencies.  For example, in Eragon, book one of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, the character of Murtagh has brown hair – but in Eldest and Brisingr, he has black hair.  J.K. Rowling is the first to admit to the many discrepancies in time and other elements in her Harry Potter books – the result of writing under the intense pressure of deadlines, and often corrected in subsequent printings. The Twilight Saga suffers from similar contradictions and logic problems.  From all this we might infer that consistency is not essential when it comes to writing a series, but in fact a really crackerjack series depends upon it.

So what are some ways to track character, setting, plot details or consistency of voice?

One useful tool for continuity of characters is the character file, or worksheet. Whether physical (a folder full of notes, or certain pages from the manuscript with key details highlighted, for instance) or digital (a spreadsheet or questionnaire), here are some details worth keeping track of:

  • Character Name
  • Age (relative to time period of story)
  • Nationality
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Eye Color (Glasses?)
  • Hair – Color, Style,  thick/fine, straight/curly, long/short/bald, etc.
  • Build – Height, Weight, Body Type/Shape
  • Complexion
  • Style of Dress
  • Distinguishing Marks / Physical Features – scars, moles, etc.
  • Characteristics / Mannerisms
  • Speaking Voice – Vocabulary, Accent
  • Personality
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Back Story
  • Family background – Parents? Siblings?
  • Key Relationships – Married, single, divorced, significant other? Children?
  • Home / Hometown
  • Education
  • Hobbies, interests, activities
  • Job(s) / Occupation
  • Religion/Philosophy
  • Fears
  • Loves
  • Frustrations
  • Habits
  • Character Flaws
  • Other notable details – Car? Pets? Possessions? Influences?
  • Role in the story (protagonist, antagonist, instigator, love interest, foil, etc.)
  • What does s/he want?
  • What’s in his/her way? What’s the problem?
  • What compounds the problem / raises the stakes?
  • How does s/he go about getting what s/he wants?
  • How does s/he change or what does s/he learn by the end?

In the Children’s Book Hub, there are character worksheets incorporating all these elements that can be downloaded in pdf or .doc form, but you can also build your own in any spreadsheet or word processing program by copying and pasting in the details above and/or incorporating your own.

In the next post, I’ll discuss tools for tracking setting and plot details.

Series NavigationThe Series Series, Part 3: What Constitutes a Series?The Series Series, Part 5: Tracking Settings


10 Responses to “The Series Series, Part 4: Continuity”
  1. Beth says:

    There are certain series I read and re-read — they’re my “comfort books” — and the more often I read them, the more continuity problems I notice. That has certainly made me sensitive to watching for continuity holes in my own writing, but it’s so easy for something to slip through even the finest-toothed editing comb.

    This checklist looks excellent (and very thorough) but I will also check out the worksheets in the Hub. I particularly like the idea of a spreadsheet — if one had the categories across the top, and the characters each on a line of his or her own, that would also allow the writer to check for duplication of characteristics and to make sure that each character was an individual.

    I look forward to your post on setting and plot!

  2. Pam says:

    Being organized about my writing in an area in which I’m woefully lacking. I am grateful for this post. This works on so many levels. Oh my I can see how this can help me with the emotional traits of my character and how my character relates to his environment. Okay, gotta go. I’m so excited! Making notes.

  3. Rena Traxel says:

    It drives me up the wall when there are inconsistencies. I’ve seen it a few times where the mc is described as having red hair for example, but on the cover has brown hair.

  4. Diane says:

    Being a visual writer I enjoyed being able to print off hardcopies from the Hub Resources as well as your wonderful Picture Book course Emma. The character file is an excellent tool. Thankyou.

  5. Emma says:

    Beth –
    I love your idea for a spreadsheet! If you want to design one, we can post it in the Hub for others to use as well…?!

  6. Emma says:

    Terrific Pam! I’m glad it was helpful!

  7. Emma says:

    Rena –
    I agree. This kind of tracking will help minimize those errors. And a worksheet like this can also be shared with an illustrator (via the editor) when the time comes to help them visualize the character as you do.

  8. Emma says:

    Thanks Diane! More to come!

  9. Beth says:

    I will get to work on a spreadsheet a.s.a.p., Emma.

  10. Diane says:

    Good Idea. I have a small one….

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