Thursday, June 17, 2010
Missing a little Zip
The other night, The Kiddo and I settled down to read The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery. We were in a very dramatic part, where three of the kids and the faithful collie Zip go check out the haunted house, which has no electricity.
As a mother with a pilot's license in helicopter hovering, I was horrified. In the story, the oldest kid is 12, one kid is deaf, and the third kid is 10. That their parents actually let them go poke around in a dark house BY THEMSELVES, armed only with a flashlight and waaaay before the invention of cell phones, made my hair stand up. The mother in the story does raise some qualms, but quickly decides it's okay if Zip goes along.
The Kiddo was biting her nails as we read about how Zip breaks away from the three kids after hearing a noise.
The story continues, with the kids racing up to an attic room filled with mysterious dog howlings and groans and moans, and finding the room empty. And I do mean empty: not even Zip is to be found, only the author didn't mention that.
The Kiddo jumped on it like a duck in a junebug. "Where's Zip?" she kept asking. "What happened to Zip?"
We finished reading the chapter and a little bit into the next, and Zip was completely MIA. He didn't show up until the plot needed him again. It worried The Kiddo to no end, in part because she's very tenderhearted when it comes to animals, and in part because she's all about the logic of a situation.
It got me to thinking about continuity in writing.
We writers write in piece-a-block fashion, even linear writers like me. We churn out an 80K MS in chunks, an hour here, two hours there, a scene, maybe a chapter, at a time. And even with professional editors and copy-editors looking over my shoulder, I've screwed up -- in my first book, I'd changed the countertops in my heroine's kitchen from slate to soapstone. But sure enough, upon re-reading the published book, I caught a mention of slate countertops.
So how do we do our best to eliminate continuity goofs? Here are a few tips that work for me.
1) Print out a blank calendar from Outlook of the proposed time-span of the novel. Jot down briefly the time and place of each scene and the characters involved. (You can also use index cards or create an Excel spreadsheet.)
2) If you have room on that same calendar, note the weather (a pet screw-up of mine -- I'll have my heroine outside in short sleeves in the dead of winter).
Now, take a look at the order of those scenes. Are they logical? Do they give your characters the time to get from one place to another? Do you have them eating two suppers in one night? Is the weather as it should be -- no snowing in July unless it's meterologically likely? No darkness falling at 5 p.m. in mid-summer in Georgia?
Then as you're doing your final edits, read for continuity, with a special eye for disappearing Zips. Have your Critique Partners or Beta Readers do the same. You're not looking at your word-smithing. You're looking at the logistical movement of your characters -- think like a detective.
Usually even the most egregious screw-ups are easy enough to fix in process. It's after the book is finished, and when your editor writes in her revision notes, "Uh, wait, better check the time-line on this? When is this happening?" that it's like untangling a knotted fishing line.
But of course, I'm the only doofus who ever does this, right? Me and the author of the Happy Hollisters and The Haunted House Mystery, who somehow lost Zip.