Of Cats And Dragons

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For Authors: Continuity

Published 2020-05-13
Carol E. Leever

Writing with a partner can be a very rewarding experience. It can have its difficulties, obviously, but with Camilla and me things generally work out for the best (notice I said "Camilla and me" not "Camilla and I." That's grammatically correct because the pronoun is used "objectively" not "subjectively"). We both have our strengths and our weaknesses. I know what my weaknesses are, and I do try my best to improve my abilities, but frequently I just write without worrying about them because I know Camilla will catch my errors.

Generally, we split up the chapters in a book. Once we come up with the plot and the outline, we just randomly pick chapters to write. After writing a chapter we usually read it to the other person. We discuss it, make some changes, and then we swap chapters. I add stuff to her chapters; she adds stuff to my chapters. We swap them again, edit them, (sometimes repeatedly), and then go over them together (several more times). It works well for us.

We both bring our skills and our obsessions to the table with each edit. Camilla, for instance, is very focused on sentence structure and grammar. I like writing dialogue. (I talk too much!) I tend to write things fast and loose (think lazy), and Camilla goes through and fixes stuff, adding in layers of detail that I left out.

And occasionally we run into issues where we find ourselves spending far too long trying to fix a single sentence. My response is usually: "It's a single sentence in the middle of chapter 17. No one is going to care if we use an Oxford comma or not!"

Her response is usually: "We have to be consistent! We always use an Oxford comma. And maybe this single sentence is the reason someone stops reading our book."

She's usually right about these things.

My issue is continuity of action -- the choreography of a scene. For example, let's say Camilla has written a chapter where Omen is standing in the middle of a tavern drinking a refreshing glass of water. (Just an example -- I'm not saying there are any taverns or drinking going on in our next book!) Suddenly the door bursts open, strangers storm inside, words are exchanged, and everyone draws their swords. A fight breaks out until our hero emerges wounded but victorious.

Something like that takes a lot of work to write. Both Camilla and I typically use our DnD dice to "stage" the scene -- Omen is usually this blue 20-sided dice, and Tormy has his own special orange 12-sided dice as his stand-in.


But when we go over the chapter my only response might be: "What happened to the glass of water?"

Camilla's response is usually one of incredulity.

But these things are important! Did he put it down on a table? Did he drop it on the floor and shatter glass everywhere (Tormy's paws are tender!)? Did he pause the fight, clean the glass and put it away (he's obsessive enough that he might have done that)? Or maybe he kept drinking the water throughout the fight, enraging his opponents who didn't think he was taking the whole thing seriously enough?

Needless to say when I take my turn at that chapter, that glass of water is going to become important.

I remember reading a book series a number of years ago that I stopped following because of a serious continuity error. In chapter 3 of this book, the heroine was in a terrible car accident -- her car was totaled and left on the side of the road. She got a ride back to town in a police car.

Chapter 5 was all about her going back to the scene of the accident and picking up her car with a tow truck so that it could be taken to the shop and repaired (she had to scrounge to come up with the money for the repairs).

The problem was with chapter 4. In chapter 4, inexplicably, she got into said car and drove it to the next plot location -- the broken car, the one still sitting beside the road miles away from where she was staying. It drove me crazy! I kept rereading the chapter trying to figure out if maybe it was a flashback, or if I had missed something. But nope. Just an error.

All it would have taken to fix the problem was one sentence saying her friend drove her, or that she had gotten a rental car. But much later in the book, when the big fight was happening, and everything was coming to the explosive conclusion, all I could think about was that stupid car, and the fact that she never could have gone to the important plot location, and therefore nothing else could have happened the way it did.

That author's editors should have caught the mistake. They didn't.

The moral of the story is -- if there's a missing glass of water in our books, it's Camilla's fault. All the missing Oxford commas -- that's on me.

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Patricia Parker said about For Authors: Continuity: Reply

I'm with Carol on the Oxford comma. And a lack of continuity drives me crazy, too!

I read Anne Rice's vampire books back in the day, and I found a doozy. There's a child who LeStat turns into a vampire. Then one of them kills the child (stake in the chest I believe) in one of the books. She's DEAD.

Then, without explanation she shows up in a later book. I actually wrote to the publisher. No response.

I guess if you're Anne Rice and you're making millions for your publisher, you can bring anyone you want back to life. But I stopped reading her stuff after that. Besides her two best books weren't even the vampire ones. In my opinion Cry To Heaven and The Feast of All Saints were much better books!

Anyway, here's to consistency!! Even in Chapter 17.