When I was little boy, I spent Saturday mornings astride my trusty steed (the arm of my father’s chair) watching the cowboy shows on our black and white TV. In one of those shows, Roy Rogers chased the bad guys into some bushes in one scene and burst out of those same bushes in the next scene. It was exciting, but there was a problem.
The problem was that Roy wore one shirt when he charged into the bushes and a different one when he came out the other side, ostensibly a few seconds later. My film and movie friends would label that a “continuity” problem.
Many continuity problems in film and TV are a direct result of the fact that films and TV don’t shoot the scenes in the order they’ll be used in the final version. That results in things that are said or shown in one part of the movie or show that don’t match up with the rest.
You can create the same kinds of problems in your book. On one book, I thought XYZ Company would be a great example of good practice and said so in the first chapter. By the time I got to the place where I might have used that example, I’d found better ones.
So I didn’t mention XYZ Company. Luckily, my writing partner caught the mistake and we fixed it.
I’ve created problems the other way, too. I remember referencing one example as if I had already described it, even though it wasn’t anywhere to be found in the manuscript. I think what happened was that my writing partner and I had talked about the example so often that it just seemed like it was in the book.
Dealing with continuity problems
No matter what you think, continuity issues will creep into your manuscript. That’s just the way it is. The best you can do is catch them and fix them.
Read the full manuscript aloud after every complete version is “done.” You find continuity errors. Mark them in the manuscript and make a punch list of things that should be fixed. Then work through it before the next draft.
After the final draft is done, send the book out to some willing readers. Ask them to spot any issues with the manuscript. Fresh eyes will spot errors your eyes will miss.
Your professional editor will catch continuity problems, too. That’s one of the many ways an editor can save you from yourself.