The devil is in the details, as the old saying goes. This is never more true than during the editing process. Most writers take anywhere from nine months to a year to produce the rough draft of a novel. That’s a long time to keep all the minute details of your plot and characters in mind. Thus there are bound to be inconsistencies that only a careful read through will catch. Some might be so small you wonder whether the reader will even notice. Others might be monumental such as the one I referred to in my article on research methods. In that case, the author had her characters swimming across a body of fresh water in the dead of winter when air temperatures had been sub-zero for weeks. Whether your inconsistency is as fundamental as that one or more picayune, it needs to be fixed . Anytime a reader picks up on an anomaly, he or she will be jolted out of the story and the fictional world you are trying to create will collapse.

Where to look for inconsistencies? Setting. Characters. Dialogue. Time frame. Everywhere!

Do all of your narrative descriptions support each other? Don’t have a character who is in his mid-forties at the beginning celebrate his thirty-ninth birthday later. Or turn a blonde into a brunette absent a specific purpose. Or place a high-rise building in a small Iowa farm town. Or show people wearing shorts and tank tops on a sweltering summer day only to have them donning jackets against the autumn chill a scene or two later.

Do your scenes pass the test of common sense? Don’t allow a character to make a cell phone call from a remote mountain redoubt where there would be no signal. Or jump on a plane in Seattle at noon and arrive in Chicago for lunch. Or experience an emotional upheaval only to revert to calm reflection a moment later. If anything takes the reader outside the bounds of what would be normal and reasonable, you must lay a foundation first in order to make it believable.

Do your characters act throughout the story according to the personality and mannerisms you have given them, always leaving room for the dramatic growth and change that must take place as events play themselves out? Don’t allow a character who speaks in a dialect or a slow deliberate manner to suddenly adopt refined or eloquent speech. Or have a crippled old man sprint to the phone. Or a kind person perpetrate a cruel act..

Details like these will pop out at you if you give the manuscript a thorough but steady read. Fix them as you go.

Return to Revise Fiction