NaNoWriMo Tips: Continuity Issues in a First Draft

Welcome to the eighth post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Over the next few posts1Well, three of the next four. I did some poor planning when I designed my initial schedule., I want to focus on some common blocks that NaNoWriMo novelers start to hit around this time of the project. That’s not to say that you’ve hit each (or any) of these yourself at this point. You might be buzzing through your novel, gradually increasing your word count as you fall more and more in love with your amazing story. If that’s the way that you feel right now, that’s amazing. That said, even though these posts might not feel like they’re for you at this point, I would encourage you to read them anyway. You never know when one of these feelings might creep up on you.

I can say that I’ve had each of the feelings I’ll talk about in the next three posts — feeling like my book has continuity issues, like I’m out of ideas, and that I hate my story — at various points writing many items that I’ve written. Hell, I’m even personally experiencing the topic of today’s post right now with my non-NaNoWriMo work in progress. The fortunate thing is that while these topics are all big potential stressors when it comes to writing, fortunately they’re (generally) not topics that all arise at the same time.

If you’re someone that came into NaNoWriMo completely blind, you’re likely at a point where if you go back to read your story, you’ll likely have a plot path you’re following, but there’s probably some giant plot holes that have started to introduce themselves. The main storyline may be in decent shape, but your main character’s backstory could be inconsistent chapter to chapter. Side characters may pop in and out of scenes where they don’t belong. If you’re anything like I was in 2015, you might even accidentally write a character into a chapter, only to realize later that you killed them off three chapters earlier. The sad part is that 2015 was the year I was relatively prepared to do NaNoWriMo.

Granted, continuity issues aren’t the worst thing to have happen at this stage of the writing process. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, NaNoWriMo is about getting your story on paper. It is, at its very essence, as way for you to write the first draft of that novel you’ve always wanted to work on. There will be mistakes in this first draft. It’s okay to make those mistakes as long as you’re making progress towards that goal of finishing both the novel and the 50,000 word goal, right?

Well, yes. That said, I know that once I realized a giant piece of inconsistency existed in my story, it make it a lot harder to keep moving forward. For example, in the story I’m working on right now, one of my alpha readers noticed a massive point of inconsistency in the backstory of one of my two main characters. Basically I had written lead up to why this character had broken up with her high school girlfriend one way in chapter 3 of the book and another way in the initially outline I’d written. Normally, this wouldn’t be a massive issue. Just change either the outline or the chapter and move on. The problem was that by the time the reader noticed my inconsistency, I had written both scenarios into fact at various points in the next six chapters of my story. This means that at some point in the future, I have a ton of re-writing to do, which was a little disheartening to realize initially.

My advice if you have a self-inflicted bout of continuity issues in your NaNoWriMo project at this point is to do the following.

  1. Pick a way to solve that continuity issue and stick with it going forward. Write everything from this point forward with that new plan in mind. You can go back and fix previous chapters later.
  2. Know where an instance of the inconsistency is, but don’t re-read your story seeking out every
  3. If you’re writing with a writing buddy, talk through your struggles with them (or feel free to share them in the comments here). Maybe they’ll give you an idea that solves your continuity issue going forward. If nothing else, they may well be able to empathize with the same struggle you’re facing.
  4. Keep a list of continuity issues you do notice through your story. Again, you don’t need a comprehensive list at this point — just things you notice if you go back in your story for any reason. Future you — the version of you that has to edit this story — will thank you.

A commonly overlooked reality of books, television series, and other media is that if left to go on for long enough, nearly any story will have some sort of continuity error, be it unintentional2As is the case with most continuity errors. or, less commonly, intentional3Pretty much any time Kenny dies in South Park prior to the creation of the Mysterion character.. Your story likely will too, both now as well as after you edit it once. Or twice. Or multiple times. The goal is to limit those continuity errors once you’re completely finished with your book.

The reality is that you’re not totally done with your book at this point. You’re just past the halfway point. There will be holes you missed as you’re telling your story, regardless of whether you went into the month with a plan or not. Do whatever you need to in order to help yourself deal with them now. That said, don’t spend too much time on continuity errors at this juncture. I promise, they’ll still be there in December when it’s time to edit.

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

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