Monday, January 21, 2013

A Comic Book Approach to Consistency

As both a writer and a reader, I recognize the importance of internal consistency. In fact, I would say that consistency is crucial to a good story. But sometimes, say while writing 50k in a month, consistency must be relegated to the back-burner.

A blond character ends up with black hair, or hazel eyes turn blue. It's annoying, but rarely a big deal. It's a matter of line edits, not plot changes. Same goes for names that morph from Lilian to Lily to Lila and maybe even back again. That's a matter for Find-Replace, and no bigger a deal than shifting eye colour, although way funnier.

The problem lies with the more substantial & often purposeful changes. When, thousands of words and many chapters into your story, you decide that your "crown prince" will actually have an older sister. Or that two characters who were happily friends need to hate each other.

Now there's a dilemma. In all likelihood, the bones of the story still work, but there are more than cosmetic changes that need to happen. Changes that will mean revision type work, and that take a whole different kind of energy than drafting. Enter the ret-con.

Ret-con is short for "retroactive continuity" and can be used as a verb for when an author/creator retroactively changes the established canon (which happens a lot in comic book universes). I use it so I can just keep writing even when I change the plot.

The plot in my first drafts tends to undergo a lot of changes, so I've realized that there's no point in worrying that everything always makes sense. When something needs to be different, I note the change, and then I just keep writing under the assumption that that new way of being is now true, pretending I actually did go back and change it.

The true version of the story is in constant flux. The story, in an abstract sense, is a constantly changing thing that references all the latest "updates". My out of order scribblings are just the current poorly representative body for the story.

I'd like to say I came up with this method in some flash of genius, or at least on purpose, but it actually originated from sheer desperation. Nearly ten thousand words into a novel, I realized there were a few key relationships that needed to be drastically different if there was to be any hope of solid conflict later on.

Did I mention I was writing this by hand, during NaNoWriMo? No way was I going back to edit, or crossing anything out. Instead I wrote about five hundred words detailing the new canon and kept going.

I've stuck with the strategy ever since. It makes for a messy draft, but it also makes for a finished draft. And in my opinion, the latter is far more important. 

What's your approach to continuity?

P.S. I'm getting ready for FAWM 2013 by posting some songs from last year to YouTube, starting with "Keep Your Eyes on the Rain". It's the first song I ever made using GarageBand, and so it has actual music! (yes, my standards are low. so sue me)

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