08 July 2007


One thing I wrestle with in handling a big project through many rewrites is consistency. I know I touched on this when I talked about things that Isobelle Carmody said at the recent SF con, but it hit home today because I was lying in bed drowsing, thinking about my novel -- as I usually am in the free moments that I'm not required to be thinking about something else -- when I had this horrible thought. I had rewritten a scene in the first third of the novel -- one that has been recently haunting my main character, when I realised that I thought I had actually cut out the thing my character was dwelling on. The trouble is that I'm so familiar with the overarching story that when I make changes like this, I forget the changes and remember the story how it has been through most of the drafts.

So, today, when I should have been writing, I was instead hunting for this scene. I couldn't remember exactly where it was, so I was skimming through with a closer eye than I might otherwise have, and then I couldn't help myself and started editing. An extra adjective there, a line of dialogue that could be cut -- my novel is like a very long short story: I'm trying not to have any extraneous material (which doesn't mean extraneous to the plot, because I do want to suggest a bigger world, but extraneous to the novel). In the time that it took me to find the scene I found another discrepancy: a male character named Isgard who I'd changed to a female named Visgard the first time he/she appeared, but then, after this point, had left it as it was. I remember now my rationale for making the change -- and I am happy that she be a girl, but when I had gone on with the rewrite I had forgotten this. If you had asked me this morning that character's name and sex, I would have said: Isgard, male because I'm really familiar with that character (who is incidental to the plot and only ever talked about, never seen) through many other drafts. This is the quandry of the rewrite.

I suppose, though, it is something I'd pick up in a subsequent editing pass -- at least I hope I would. Because I edit other people's stuff, I'm used to that way that editors read, putting more and more details into my mind and holding them there. Nothing better than thinking, oh, I'm sure that I saw this about thirty pages ago, and last time it was like that ... and finding that you are indeed correct. Though, of course, this can take an infuriatingly long time to chase down, which is why style sheets are a brilliant idea. When I found the scene I was looking for, I saw that it did, in fact, contain the details I had worried I had lost, so was able to rest easily.

I'm curious though: how do other writers maintain consistency? Is it something you struggle with or something that comes easily to you?


Lisa66 said...

I am haunted by thoughts of inconsistencies at night. I try to keep a handle on it by keeping a notebook in which I note down changes. I also use this to do a summary of each chapter so I can easily find scenes I am looking for when I need to check details. I keep character files as well in this notebook. It sounds organised doesn't it? Hmmm. In truth it doesn't help that much!

Sherryl said...

A constant struggle. I think when you write full-time, it becomes easier because you are immersed in the book all the time. It's the having to go away for stretches that causes problems for me.
But also this week, having written a draft quite quickly, I'm now finding it really beneficial to take some time to think through the story. I keep thinking of things I haven't explained, or have changed (or not changed when I should)or threads left untied.
This musing/pondering time is so valuable for picking up glitches, and making me wonder how many more I've missed!

Tracey said...

Lisa, I do have files of things too -- trouble is I don't look at them that often. Maybe it's because they're on the computer, and so I have to flick between files. Maybe having them written down would help. Not sure.

Sherryl, for me the problem is just that I have drafts that I'm too familiar with, and when I make a change in this draft, I'll get along to another point and miss it because it looks right. Maybe it is that musing time I'm missing, but I don't think so. I do do a lot of musing.