Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Indie life: Being your own continuity editor

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month!

Last month, I talked about pricing. This month, another self-publishing challenge: not just editing yourself, but being your own continuity editor.

Editing for the storytelling elements is difficult enough -- tightening up the narrative, keeping the action moving -- but there's all the little details too. Making sure the names of the seven moons in the sky are consistent. Remembering that the scene in Part III gets talked about in Part V, and changing one means changing the other. Realizing that one of the characters isn't a knight, halfway through the series, and needing to edit that out -- and it changes how he's treated, in certain situations. Making sure the black-bay horses stay black-bay and the yellow dress that gets ripped up in the laundry room scene isn't worn again later.

Do people notice these things? I do. Not all of the details, but different readers will catch different things, and even momentary confusion is not a writer's friend. Getting caught with continuity errors will make you look amateurish, too, so self-publishers need to ask themselves: do you want to be seen as a professional writer, or just a hobbyist?

Levels of continuity
Continuity is another recursive detail, like plot -- it appears, in equal complexity, at every level of the story. I need to keep track of details changing within each paragraph (the easy side), each scene, each chapter, each book in the series, and throughout all six parts of Disciple (the tougher side.)

Keep your distance
The first thing I need for continuity editing is a certain mental distance from the story. I need to not be sucked into that internal movie, not emotionally invested -- I need to track these details objectively. I find this is easier to do on paper, with a red pen, than while editing on-screen.

Mental distance is an important part of editing in general, of course. The ability to step back from my own emotional investment in the story, to evaluate its structure and execution, is very important. Personally, I think this includes stepping back from opinions like "this is a shitty first draft" as well as from "this part came out so awesome!!1!"

While it's true that a first draft is allowed to be as shitty as it needs to be, just to get it on paper, I don't believe that anything on paper is so shitty that it can't be fixed. I also don't know how seriously other writers use that phrase, but personally, I don't insult my writing. And I don't doubt my ability to fix things; it's just a question of how drastic the surgery will be. There's a good reason I've talked about using a chainsaw to edit my stuff. :)

To-do lists
I keep TO FIX lists for each draft, in each Scrivener file. Many of the things listed are continuity details, accumulated as I wrote other parts, or as realized the implications of one scene would impact another (or needed setting-up, in an earlier scene.) Some of them can be done with search and replace, like the note "Wall Street = Wallside Street" or "Search&destroy -- "firing" archers." Some need more thought, like "Drop mention of Kleelinde, or explain."

How do you keep track of continuity details?


Michael Offutt, "Johnny on the Spot" said...

Great pro tips here. Thanks for sharing.

Daniel said...

Good post!

I have a two-prong strategy for avoiding continuity errors.

My preventative tactic is to create character and location sheets that record significant details about people and places. This practice helps prevent continuity errors from happening in the first place.

My corrective tactic is to keep a "Revisions Notes" document for each draft. Whenever I change something that might affect other parts of the story, I make a note to look for the other places that I might need to change.

I'm sure things can still fall through the cracks. As you say, it's best to mentally distance yourself from the story when you take on continuity editing tasks. My Revision Notes document lets me postpone continuity revisions until I'm in editing mode rather than creating mode.

L. Blankenship said...

@Daniel - yes, reference sheets are a big help! I also draw thumbnail floor plans of houses, castles, town streets and such.

Liz said...

It's always fun to watch movies and look for continuity errors. I try not to, but often I find them.

I wish I knew how to track continuity. I try to keep it in my head, but I know that's not the best way.

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