Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Importance of Consistent Details

Ever wonder why someone would stop reading your novel? There are several reasons, but one is inconsistent details. This is particularly destructive of reader trust in a mystery or thriller, but it can turn readers off in other genres as well.

In my first novel, I had an inconsistency that once I spotted it drove me crazy. I missed it after numerous readings, my husband missed it and so did my editor. I had a horse out on the racetrack and in the stall at the same time. The discrepancy drew reader's attention away from the dramatic events that were unfolding in the stable, because the tendency is to reread the paragraph and preceding paragraphs to find out whether you've missed something.

I recently reviewed a book that purported to be a mystery. The reason for killing one of the victims was that the person witnessed a scene. The problem was that the scene was also witnessed by several thousand people on television. It make the rationale for the killing to keep the scene secret very weak. At that point, I became much more critical of the novel. It I hadn't been reviewing it, I would have stopped reading right there.

For me, the issue of consistency pertains to trust. You are trying to build your reader into the fictional world you're creating. If inconsistent and obviously impossible things happen (Unless this is fantasy of science fiction.) your reader stops trusting that your world is real.

It's hard to find all the detail slips. After a certain number of reads, we tend to skip right over them because we know what's going to happen. There are some tricks to avoid this. Put the manuscript away for several weeks or a month before rereading. This technique is what allowed me to find my own inconsistency. Other readers can help, but don't count on anyone else to find your mistakes. Editors are wonderful, but it's up to the writer to make his or her product the best it can be.