The other day I overheard two people in a mildly heated discussion about consistency. One didn’t seem to think it was a problem. If you wanted to be inconsistent with things, so be it. What caught my attention was that the people having the conversation were both teachers. In my own efforts teaching, I strive to be consistent when it comes to giving feedback and grades to the students. It’s unfair to grade someone differently just because of their background or the way they look and dress. For me, it’s all about the effort they put into the class and the work that they do.
This is just as important with writing. I’m a stickler for details. Years ago I was a contributing editor for a fiction magazine. What that boiled down to was that the publisher would send me a stack of submissions for consideration. Many were rejected because of inconsistencies. A character’s name gets changed on page three, then back on page seven. She was a blonde with straight, shoulder length hair on page four, then you blink and she’s cute little brunette with a head full of curls on page six.
Inconsistencies can disrupt a story for the reader. In some situations, I’ve even gone back to a section to check the details. That breaks the flow of the story. Just last week I finished a book where the protagonist is involved in a brawl around page fifty and his opponent is swinging a claw hammer at him. Near the end of the story, about two hundred pages later, the protagonist is reflecting on this past action and states he was attacked with a tire iron.
I’ve heard some people say “The devil is in the details” while others prefer “God is in the details”. Whichever you prefer, when it comes to writing, you’ve got to be consistent. If you want to keep your readers engaged right up to the end of the story, it’s those little points that can make a tremendous difference.
Consistency. You gotta love it.
Talking about consistency reminded me of this scene from “Why 319?” which was originally written in the middle of a summer heatwave. I lost track of how many mistakes were corrected, trying to set the stage so it would all make sense.
In this excerpt, Jefferson Chene has just viewed the body of the latest victim of the serial killer and is trying to find some clue to her identity.
I walked out into the cold March rain and stood beneath the canopy that covered the hotel’s main entrance, watching two uniformed cops slowly check each car in the parking lot. It was a lot easier once they knew the type to look for. I turned my attention to the main road, watching the late morning traffic go by. Small curtains of spray flew behind some of the cars, like hydroplanes on the river.
The two cops were headed back toward the lobby. Neither had spotted a car that matched the description on the room registration. I noticed a few cars were parked in the adjacent lot. It was a steakhouse, part of a regional chain that was usually jumping from lunch until closing time. Most of the cars were by the rear of the building. They probably belonged to the prep crew, getting the kitchen ready for the day. One car was near the front.
I walked past the cops. Neither one stopped until they reached the shelter of the canopy. The small strip of grass that separated the two parking lots was the consistency of a swamp. I lengthened my stride just before the curb and hurdled the grass. The car at the front of the lot was a Honda. The license plate matched the registration card. I was looking through the driver’s side window when the two cops joined me. One went around the other side to get a better look.
“You’re thinking she was in the steakhouse before she went to the motel,” said the cop beside me.
“Anything’s possible.” I checked the nameplate on his uniform jacket. Winston. I jerked my thumb at the kitchen. “You mind checking with the prep crew? Find out when the manager comes on duty, and have him get in touch with us.”
Winston nodded. The hair that was visible under his hat was jet black. His nose was bent and crooked, as if he’d been rapped there more than once. Scar tissue had built up beneath his left eye. I got the sense we were sizing each other up. “Boxer?”
“Hockey. Local league made up of a bunch of wannabes.”
“You the enforcer?”
“When I’m on skates, I’m more of a klutz.”
I glanced at his partner, who was still on the far side of the Honda. Winston caught the look and intervened.
“Terry, stay with the car. Nobody touches it or tries to move it. The forensic guys will probably want to check it out first before it’s towed.”
“Great,” Terry muttered. “I get to stand out in the rain and wait.”
Winston rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a schmuck. Get the squad car and park behind the Honda. Grab a cup of coffee from the hotel. I’ll wait until you’re in position.”
Terry brightened and started to run back toward the motel. He stepped in the grass median and immediately sank up to his ankles in the mud. Cursing, he pulled himself free, leaving one of his shoes in the muck. He almost fell on his ass pulling it loose.
Winston slowly shook his head. “Rookies.”
Something different in the playlist this week. Check out this track from the Sean Chambers Band with The Hip Shake Boogie.