Adult Truth #21
“Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.”
…although I do change pants after I’ve been fishing. Just something about being outside near the lake water and handling bait…well, pants, in this case, need to be changed.
This truth reminded me of consistencies in stories. We’ve all seen examples of the man driving up in the red car and driving away in the blue car. Where the door is closed at the beginning of the scene and open at the end of the scene without anybody entering the room during the scene. I’m sure most of us have caught ourselves doing something like this. We’re so into the moment, so excited about writing the coolest scene ever and upon rereading it, discover the guy who wore dirty pants is wearing clean pants five minutes later without any indication given that he changed clothes.
When writing Alpha I discovered, after several editing rounds, that I had Mallory driving through the intersection of Grand Avenue and Second Avenue. Noooo, avenues in Des Moines go east-west and streets are north-south. While this is a minor example, there are more egregious examples and we’ve all caught them.
Writers have to be aware of these in all forms. Physical limitations are also a problem. My father, a notorious catcher of movie mistakes, read something in a recent thriller. The bad guy had been captured by the hero. The hero is standing in front of the bad guy aiming a gun at the bad guy’s head. The bad guy is on his knees. Then the hero binds the bad guy’s hands behind his back with flex cuffs. Really? With the gun still aimed at the man’s head? With the bad guy not making a move to disable the hero? Unless the hero happened to be Mr. Stretchy Limbs, I don’t think so.
I recently read a book with a time problem. In one scene the kid was seven when the major incident occurred and he and his dad made his way to a shelter. Three years later, the kid says he’s twelve. (I’ll wait while you get your calculator.)
Another book I read was supposedly set in 1981. As the story progressed, the characters kept mentioning things and using technology that clearly put the story much later than 1981, if not present day. I went back and studied the first few chapters to see if I was mistaken or if I had missed the time change. I could not find any information except a short list of events that happened in 1981. This was to put the reader in the correct time frame. The story had other problems, but this one was major.
Writers have creative license to fictionalize actual places, but let’s stay realistic. Unless you’re writing an alternate version of history, don’t put the Washington Monument in Miami. However, if you have an oak tree growing up next to exit 14 along Interstate 35, where there isn’t one, I don’t think there’s going to be too much protest.
There could be a legitimate protest of the way I have arranged downtown Des Moines because I’ve kept the building where Mallory’s office is located even though that particular block and those around it are completely different from when I wrote the first draft. I chose to keep my geography because I didn’t want to have to constantly update. Also, the arrangement is not an intricate part of the story. Future stories may have a few updates but I don’t think I’ll change office buildings. (Okay, I can’t say never because in the next story she moves her taekwondo club to a new location.)
Critique groups, editors, and constant rewrites are three keys to avoiding consistency problems. You don’t want the reader eagerly looking for the next mistake rather than enjoying the story.
So, go change your pants and start writing.