When you’re drafting a novel, you often need to explore the events you’re creating alongside your characters. Regardless of how much planning you do, it can be easy for continuity issues to occur. See if you can spot any problems with the passage below.
The crate dug into Richard’s chest as he hefted it along the street. His arms ached and his fingers chafed, but there’d be no relief until he reached the warehouse. He adjusted his grip, swore as it almost tumbled to the ground. A disgruntled cluck came from within, and then a growl. A purple beam escaped through a crack in the wood.
‘Shh,’ he muttered, and the light dulled. He cast a glance into a nearby alley. Richard both cursed and praised the rain keeping the streets quiet. If they found out he was moving it today… He patted the hilt of the knife at his belt for reassurance. A couple blocks more, and it’s gone. More importantly, sold. Then he could leg it. One foot in front of the other, that’s all there was to it. His future awaited.
Rounding a corner, he discovered he was right about the last part, but for all the wrong reasons. Three masked figures leaned against a wall beneath a shop awning. So that’s it, he thought as they saw him and approached. Melissa had sold him out after all. He flexed life back into his fingers and drew his knife.
How could Richard pat the hilt of his knife or draw it while holding the crate? It might seem glaringly obvious, but these sorts of thing creep in regularly. Perhaps the author meant to make him set the crate down before facing the threat, but forgot to add a few essential words.
Maybe Richard glanced down at his knife rather than patting it for reassurance in an earlier draft. If it caught the author’s eye during revision and they didn’t like it for some reason, they could have changed it without checking the surrounding context. (The author’s me, by the way. No need to get permission when I write something for the sake of an example!)
On the other hand, sometimes these issues are just symptoms of early drafts. They’re easier to spot when you come to revise, but they can hide while you’re writing. When you’ve spent three hours slogging through a scene, it’s easy to forget what happened a few sentences ago.
Not all problems are as obvious as those above. A character’s food might randomly change, for instance.
It’s a great idea to read through your draft once you’ve finished it, keeping an eye on continuity. Doing this a few weeks after you’ve finished can help you see things with fresh eyes. You could also make a note of important details for each scene or chapter as you go, to help you spot more problems.
Getting other people to check your work can help immensely. These could be beta readers or critique partners, or a developmental editor. They can alert you to issues which have still managed to slip under your radar. It’s unlikely you’ll ever catch absolutely everything, but taking these steps will make your story hold together much more effectively.
I’d love to know what your favourite plot hole or continuity error is! What didn’t make sense in something you read or watched? Comment below or send me an email.