Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Continuing Education: A look at Continuity Editing

Not just another blog about editing!

Kari Donald, A4A Member

There’s a reason “edit” is a four-letter word. For some authors, it’s the least exciting part of the writing process, but one of the most important steps for improving your manuscript. Editing is so essential there are numerous blogs providing helpful hints about the different types, such as structural, developmental, line, copy, and of course, proofreading. For this, however, let’s look at one very specific part of editing: the continuity edit. 

What is continuity editing?

Continuity is often grouped in with copy-editing. However, I personally think every work can benefit from an editing pass dedicated to looking only for continuity issues. This edit is one where you’re looking at the details in your story and making sure they make sense in the real world. Filmmakers do something similar where they pay people to sit on set and do nothing but observe scene set-ups, watching for things like putting a glass of wine in a different place during a retake, seating characters in the same chairs after a break, and other similar details. Continuity edits on your manuscript are very similar: you’re checking for misplaced, out of order, or other anachronisms and inconsistencies. 

Why is continuity editing so important?

As with any edit, a continuity edit helps to remove potential sources of distraction and make the story the best it can be. It goes beyond basic writing mechanics and structure. We want the reader to stay immersed in your narrative and not wonder why someone that sat down next to the fireplace is suddenly giving an answer from their position standing next to the window. A continuity check also helps maintain the credibility of your story. Try to tell me your character recently visited Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall and I will cry “Shenanigans!” The Liberty Bell hasn’t been in Independence Hall since 2003. (Or 1976 if you count the time spent in a pavilion next to Independence Hall; I’m all about accuracy; just ask any author whose book I have edited.) The last thing we want to have happen is your book ending up on the literary equivalent of Cinema Sins.

But I carefully planned my book; there shouldn’t be continuity issues

It doesn’t matter if you are a plotter or a pantser. I have done continuity reads on manuscripts from both styles of writing (and those in between), and there is no difference when it comes to the number or types of errors that I find. In my experience, the biggest influencer on continuity issues is previous edits. The developmental edit can be brutal to even the best-laid plans. Adding, deleting, or changing scenes and events in your story can cause problems like eating supper before breakfast, having Monday follow Wednesday, or watching the sun set twice at the end of the day (and no, your world is not Tatooine). You might think it was just a small change, but it can cause a ripple effect throughout the rest of your book. The bottom line: you need to check your book for continuity issues at least once after you’re done with major edits.

I’ve gone through my book several times and I don’t see any continuity problems.

That’s great! But as the author, you’re very close to your story and you know it inside and out. I’m certain that if you were to rewrite one of Gordon Ramsay’s recipes so that it was missing some ingredients or steps, give it to Gordon, and then tell him to execute the recipe you gave him, he would still make the dish the same way he always has (and not just because he would “bloody well do it the right way”). He’s so familiar with the recipe that his brain just doesn’t notice the missing or different parts of the written recipe. When checking your book for continuity, your brain will do the same thing. Since you know what’s supposed to happen, you can miss holes, incorrect details or conflicting events. Because of this, try to find fresh eyes, someone that hasn’t read your manuscript yet, to do your continuity edit. Your person of choice should be someone that is very logical and detail-oriented. However, that doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for trying to look for them yourself, especially during revisions and edits.

Okay, so what should I look for during a continuity edit?

Glad you asked! There are a plethora of factors to look for when checking a manuscript for continuity. Since it would be impossible to cover them all in a single blog (I tried), we’re going to present a series of blogs dedicated to continuity. Each one will do a deep dive on a particular topic as well as provide hints, tips, and resources to help find and resolve continuity issues. So check back for these in-depth continuity topics, and happy writing!

Join us next week for an interview with A4A author Karen Heenan, and in two weeks for our next continuity blog on location.


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