A Storytelling Serial
Are you reading this blog on a mobile device? If so and you'd like to subscribe to my occasional postings but don't see a blog sidebar for that option, please head to the bottom of this page on your device for subscription and other sidebar information, including quick links to archives. Thanks for taking the extra time to scroll!
You’ve lost me.
Forget my copyeditor training; I’m also a reader. Besides, the main job of a copyeditor is to stand in for readers, preemptively eliminating glitches and gaps that break the reading flow.
But you, earnest scribe, don’t seem to realize how closely readers follow your words or how quickly we stumble. Small inconsistencies catapult us out of your universe and into a space where we stop reading to think about your writing. That’s not a good place to send any reader.
Your shrugging over details that seem inconsequential can quickly tip the delicate balance of the unspoken contract between writers and readers. You don’t think those little things matter? Wrong. At the very least, they add up.
We have many reading choices. Too many, actually. If you won’t keep us immersed in your story or message, we’ll turn to a writer who does.
Hollywood films used to rely on the skills of continuity editors. I’m not sure who fills that role these days, and for some films I doubt it’s anyone. But continuity is as important for the written word as it is on the screen. And its absence shows.
In the theater, suspension of disbelief collapses when the bullet hole appears before the shot is fired or the family dog shrinks—without the help of magic or chemistry—by the end of a scene. And readers fall off the page with a thud when government offices are fully staffed on an ordinary weekend afternoon, when given someone’s job description for the third time, or when introduced to a person or an idea that adds nothing to the story at that point—not even entertainment value—and is never mentioned again.
Our memories and powers of observation aren’t that poor.
Picky? You bet. Because watching a film and reading aren’t just about being transported to another’s imagination; they’re also sensemaking experiences. Whatever the reality that viewers and readers are invited to enter, it must play by the rules of the microcosm portrayed—whether fictional or factual. And like a pixel, every small element builds the overall image. When one tiny piece is off, the picture doesn’t make sense.
Can you be your own continuity editor? Yes, and you should be. The entire structure of your written piece hangs together via consistency of time, people, place, and argument. Fiction or nonfiction, internal logic must carry through.
I’m in awe of the creativity you bring to your ideas, and I appreciate that you may be among the many writers who pound out first drafts to capture concepts in any way possible. But eventually there must come a draft when Those Who Write for Readers become analytical and detail oriented—regardless of inherent personality traits or comfort level. Resistance only signals writing immaturity.
If you want to win me back, then prepare to roll up your sleeves and head into the weeds, carrying some of the crucial tools of your trade—which requires that you find, adapt, or create systems for organization.
Whatever your genre, study the nuances of POV and transitions. Please don’t disorient readers with
dizzying point-of-view switches. Hopping from one perspective to another gives us whiplash. (You can
quickly read about some of the basics, but Google and Amazon provide a wealth of in-depth
resources on POV in fiction and nonfiction writing.)
Do you know when and why you’re using present tense, past tense, present perfect tense, past
perfect tense, and future perfect tense? Even if you can’t remember the terminology, you ought to
understand the form and function of each. You’re a writer. You must master your instruments. (You
can quickly scan my virtual bookshelf for several of my grammar favorites, but Google and Amazon
provide a wealth of resources on how to use tense well.)
And for the love of Pete, if you’re going to have your work copyedited and proofread, finish those
continuity revisions first.
Remember, the lost can be found. I’m rooting for the reclamation of your work, because I truly want to like your writing. Once you start showing care for the pesky details, I’ll anticipate finding myself lost in the magic of your words.
Meanwhile, I choose the writer whose careful, invisible consistency keeps me in their world.
With hope for next time,
Which type of detail derails your reading? In the comments below, please share the little thing you wish writers would pay more attention to.