Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Lots of chattering out there recently on continuity this week. For instance, Laura Anne Gilman at SFNovelists writes about how annoying continuity slips can be to a reader. Deborah Teramis Christian writes about her challenges in keeping her multiverse straight, and her personal wiki for that multiverse. David Weber, who was Writer Guest of Honor at ConDFW this weekend, posted an authorial note regarding his multiple Honor Harrington series [what the heck is the plural of series, series's?] and the fact that an occasional scene is going to have to appear in multiple novels, generally from different points of view, because that is what works for what he's trying to do.

While there are many details that author/creators must remember and control, there are some realistic strategies that you can use to limit the effect of slips.

  • Memory is not perfect: People don't always remember things correctly, so thinking that you met someone on planet A when you really met on station B is par for the course among humans. If you're a subtle author, you can intentionally drop in a few of these mistakes by a POV character, and then the unintentional ones will seem planted. This also allows some really cool effects like getting the reader to anchor characters together and see parallels.

  • History is not perfect: Actually, History is like a mashup collage seen in a funhouse mirror, especially once postmodern academics get through with it. There is no reason that people in a novel will have a clear view of events that happened even five years before - the stories that people have told about the events will have gained more credence than the actual events.

  • Information has a viewpoint : When you are using POV and telling what a character knows or believes, the character doesn't have to be right. That information may be faulty in some basic way, and it definitely should include whatever biases would be natural to that character.

    At best, fiction is an attempt to create understanding about [pseudo-]events that happened in a particular way at a particular time. In order to create fiction, even "creative nonfiction" about real events, we have to delete massive amounts of information. We are collapsing a general superimposed wave form into a single line and then abstracting that line to an aesthetically pleasing abstract presentation in the form of language.

    Get it right if you can, but you can also get it artfully wrong, and please just as many readers.
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