In the face of fantastic elements, it’s crucial that your narrative remains consistent both from a physical and a character standpoint. While working on TPOAP* yesterday afternoon, I ran into a perfect example of both. These are the kinds of things that if you just let them slide as a writer, maybe your reader won’t notice on a conscious level, but in the part of their brain that re-assembles what they read into memories, the little cognitive bits will notice that things don’t quite add up. The story won’t stick with the reader, because it breaks the subtle rules that their brain has come to expect from reality.

Here’s what happened.

There is a fight (shocker), and at one point, Lincoln’s gun (Fox) ends up on the ground several yards away from him. Action proceeds in such a way that there is no chance for him to pick it up. Several pages later, he has to run away, carrying a rather precious piece of cargo. This is how the physical reality kicks in. This could just be hand waved. I’ve seen books where this sort of thing is just ignored, and in the next chapter, Lincoln simply has his gun again. Most readers won’t consciously notice that.

However.

This doesn’t build a world in their heads. Too many of these kinds of little misses, and their brain no longer respects your Universe.

You have to address it. Not only does it fix the problem of “but wait, his gun was on the ground,” it’s another opportunity to develop your characters. Life is full of little annoyances like this, and how we deal with them says things about us. Does the character get the gun before taking car of the important matter at hand? Do they try to do both at once? Do they ask someone else to grab it for them? It’s a great chance to let your reader learn about how your character handles life.

You have to do the same thing on the character side too. If you’ve read my series on “How to write a novel,” you’ll know that you’re going into each chapter with a fairly detailed synopsis of what’s going to happen there. When you go to actually write the words though, sometimes it exposes glitches in your synopsis. The key to maintaining a real sense of character is in being able to recognize when that happens and to adapt accordingly, instead of blindly sticking to the synopsis.

Take a look at this sentence:

Shar calls for cleanup and orders Lincoln to take the body back to the safe house.

Once you’re writing, you can maybe get a page or two out of that one beat. There are two problems with it though. We’ve already indicated that Shar’s character really has little interest in anything to deal with the aftermath of one of her missions. Zilch. The point of structuring the plot as above was to generate some conflict between her and Lincoln because he needed to do something else. But the character as constructed would not actually care enough to order Lincoln to help with cleanup and transportation. Once I realized this, I also realized that I didn’t the additional mini-conflict it would generate.

It was out of character for her, but at the synopsis level I couldn’t feel that. Once the words started coming, I understood that it was as mistake.

Maintaining consistently, both from a physical and character standpoint, is crucial for getting your reader to believe in the world you’re creating, and ultimately to enjoying and retaining your story. It’s tough to watch out for, and sometimes requires extra willpower to fix, but it will be worth it!

* Transformative Paraphysics and Other Alchemical Phenomena

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

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