26 June 2007

REPOST 9/10/2006 Continuity edits...

When people talk about advanced edits, they are usually talking about staying in POV, logic errors in plotline or plotline holes...which they call continuity errors. I take continuity to a whole new level. Bear with me while I give just a little advice about continuity errors and editing them out of your own work.

Continuity goes beyond making sure your heroine's name doesn't change halfway through the book...or your hero's hair and eye color. It goes beyond a cohesive story built into the fabric of the world.

What are you looking for?

Impossible body situations-- Test out anything you THINK your character can do on yourself. Yes, there are some people who are more flexible than you are, but here are some rules of thumb, which I mention because I've found these actual errors IN books I've read.

The average person can turn her head far enough to line the chin up with her shoulder and no further. If a hero is standing behind her and kissing her, he MUST have his head leaned forward and turned to the side to meet her lips. It is physically impossible for her to kiss him any other way.

There is NO place on your own lower back you cannot reach, unless you have a broken arm or other infirmity...or you are tied up. You can reach all of your lower back and shoulders. The only area most people can't reach is the center and just below the shoulderblades on their own backs.

Stand up and extend your arms down your body. How far can you reach? Most people can reach a little above their own knees. Unless you are a human pretzel and Mr. Fantastic as well, you cannot physically reach past the knees of even someone significantly shorter than you are while kissing that person while you are both stretched out flat or standing. Unless there are bent knees somewhere in the picture, you have to stop kissing the person to do some of the acrobatics I've seen described.

Try everything yourself. IS it possible? If you can't do it, assume your characters can't either. unless your character isn't human. Grin...

Blocking errors-- It's a smart move to use quadrile/graph paper to map out rooms (including doors, windows, fireplaces, furniture and other items in the room), houses or other large settings, and even entire worlds. Why? Because you don't want to find yourself screwing up where things lie and how far away they are.

To that end, it's not a bad idea to trace your finger over it as you read to ensure that you don't (for instance) turn your character toward a window opposite a door then say she can see the facial expressions of someone at the door. If it's reflecting...maybe, but then say she's seeing the reflection.

Line of sight-- Which brings me to line of sight. With movements of the eyes, the person (unobstructed) has almost 180 degrees of vision without turning the head. Without moving the eyes, that narrows to 150 degrees or so, with sketchy vision at the perifery. If a person is looking through an unobtrusive hole, you narrow that line of sight to (at most) 20-30 degrees. If a person is standing close to the wall and facing it...or close to a person/an object and facing it, his line of sight narrows to very little. If you have to, use a protractor and your blueprint to see what the character can actually SEE.

Hearing-- This one floors me, more often than not. Experiment! Find out how loud the machinery you're talking about really is. How far away can you hear it? Can you talk over it? At what distance can't you talk over it?

And, keep it consistent! If you have a piece of machinery that someone can clearly hear running 100 yards away, though sound-dampening flora, chances are, you aren't talking over it in a normal speaking voice when you're standing next to it. Use logic on these things.

Touch-- Most of us know how things feel. Take it one further. Keep your character's situation in mind. You know how satin feels. It feels different when your hands are wet...or cold to near freezing temps. Again, try it on yourself and see what it feels like. Feeling every ridge of corderoy, for instance, while your hands are little better than blocks of ice, is not realistic.

Smell-- The biggest errors here are having sick people smelling acutely (I mean people with stuffed/running noses that would preclude the receptors working correctly) and forgetting that there are scents. Think about a hospital. Before you open your eyes, what do you smell? Antiseptic, gasses, medicine, sweat, the sickly smell of someone fighting off illness, glues? Likely, quite a few of those. The characters don't live in a bubble. Use all their senses.

Taste-- I'll make one comment on taste and let it drop. People who can't smell, can't taste correctly.

Okay...a second that applies to both scent and taste. These are powerful motivators for the human animal. Scents not only arouse or frighten; they are potent enough to bring back memories that associate with those scents more powerfully than any other senses you posses, according to studies. Don't discount how important they are.

Science-- This is a VERY important one. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not talking about "inventing" a science fantasy technology here. I'm talking about simple, everyday science. If you'll excuse me, I have to use examples again.

The ONLY metals that rust have a high content of iron in them. Rust is, by definition, ferrous oxide. Ferrous MEANS iron. If the metal does NOT have a high iron content...and UNBOUND iron to boot...in it, it will not rust.

Always double check what the metal you're talking about or alloy you're talking about will do in the situation you're describing. Silver, for instance, is used in a lot of electronic components, becuase it doesn't easily contaminate. When it does, what does it do? It tarnishes. Have you ever had to polish silver? If you have, you know what tarnish looks like. Silver does NOT corrode without the addition of some interesting chemical acids, which is why it is safe for use on submarines and in salt-water air when other metals aren't.

Magnets work on iron. Magnets do not work on every metal in existence. The test for tin cans vs. steel was to use a magnet on it. If it stuck, it was steel. If it didn't, it was tin.

The wind makes it colder than a solid chill. Remember wind chill factor? When a hiker faces sub-freezing temps, one of the best things he can do is find a cave, erect a tent and let the snow bury it at least halfway...or dig a hollow into a solid snow wall. Anything that takes the wind out of the equation is a good thing for him.

Underground temps, until you get FAR underground, usually adopt the mean temperature for the area the cave is in, hence the idea of homes built into the side of hills. The underground temp can be said to be neither hotter nor colder than surface temperature at all times. The truth is, in the winter, it's going to be warmer than surface, and in the summer, it's going to be cooler.

These are the things that people who know how science works will cringe at, scream about and so on. They are jarring, and they are highly preventable errors.

History-- Oh, we've all heard them! People only bathed once a year? Not. Only Christianity existed in the middle ages. Not. The point is, if you're going to write a true historical era, research it and get it right. Reading a book that is supposed to be early in WWII but contains weapons that weren't available until the end of the war isn't good for the author or book, because someone out there knows when it was invented.

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