I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, July 6, 2012

May I have a little continuity, please?

 Hi, Roxanne here. Have you ever watched a movie and noticed a flaw? Takes you out of the magic and reminds you that you’re sitting in a crowded theater, doesn’t it? Google movie flaws, mistakes or continuity errors—and forget about wasting time playing Hearts or Solitaire or (my mom’s favorite) Bejeweled, which for some crazy reason she always calls “bedazzled”—because you easily lose track of time until someone calls you for dinner or begs you to get off the computer and make the meal.

In the beloved 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s hair changes length within a scene, and in another, she wears black shoes instead of the ruby slippers, along with 307 other recorded mistakes.

Least you think we’ve too sophisticated to make errors today with multimillion-dollar movie budgets and available technology, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaba (2004) had a whopping 299 goofs.

Apparently, the continuity girl is playing too many of the above mentioned games or taking coffee breaks or anything but doing her job. Perhaps, she’s a continuity man in these days of political correctness. Never heard of a continuity girl/guy? According to the Collins English Dictionary at dictionary.com, a continuity girl "is a girl or man whose job is to ensure continuity and consistency, especially in matters of dress, make-up, etcetera, in successive shots of a film, especially when these shots are filmed on different days.”

But rather than pointing fingers or laughing at movie errors, admit novelists make mistakes too. As a reader, don’t you wonder how it happens? How many times did the writer/agent/editor read the manuscript? I recently had the opportunity to read the fast draft of my friend’s novel. She was writing on deadline and didn’t have time to compare the proposed timeline with changes she’d made or keep track of minute elements. So I checked her manuscript for errors—guess I was her continuity girl.

How do authors keep track of the details as they write?

Note cards. In the beginning, I wasn't savvy enough to keep all my info online and note cards were just no brainer easy. One card/scene, which I'd sometimes color-code. I’d even spread the cards along the floor so I could see holes in the plot.

Notebooks. One award-winning author simply keeps pertinent information in a little notebook she carries in her purse.

The Book Buddy by Susan May Warren. A fabulous workbook that helps you think through and organize your book. 

Spreadsheets. Other authors use spreadsheets to easily track all the details. Among the benefits: you can be ultra organized; everything is always at your fingertips, it's easily carried on your thumb drive, and there's unlimited storage space.

Novel-writing software. There are dozens of programs out there. Some, like Storybook, are free. Others may cost but are worth their investment with the man-hours saved when scrounging a manuscript for minute details. One published author doesn’t know how she managed before Scrivener, which offers a 30-day free trial.

Wikispaces. Created by the people who brought us Wikipedia, "Wikispace gives you a place to share work, ideas, pictures links, videos and media—and anything else you can think of." Even though the pages were created to be shared among users, they can also remain private. One historical author of dozens and dozens of novels couldn’t keep track of names, places or events she’d used in previous books and wanted to refer to again, so she created a Wikipage for each of her books.

Who is the continuity girl in your life? How do you keep track of the details?

~ Roxanne Sherwood


  1. I love these suggestions! I keep my details in a notebook, in Scrivener, and in Evernote. I'm one of those people who would wear a belt with suspenders. lol

    For my main characters, I create an an Excel table with their names, age, height, weight, eye color and coloring. I print this out and stick it in the front of the notebook for each book. That way I have a quick reference when I need to know someone's age or eye color.

  2. Pat,

    You are super organized. Thanks for the tip for keeping facts about main characters handy.

    You always look so stylish; I can't imagine you in suspenders!

  3. Ahhh, you said the evil word: Spreadsheets!!

    Hehe, just kidding. I've actually adapted to Excel out of necessity and now, every once in awhile, I willingly make my own spreadsheet.

    Massive thumbs up for the Book Buddy too.

    Another simple solution is having a crit partner or other readers. They tend to catch the blaring continuity issues we don't...

  4. I have a file created for each novel, but as my series continues to grow, I'm seeing the need for some other way of keeping those details intact.

    My editor and copyeditor also help out as my continuity girls. When you're writing, it's so easy to change eye and hair color...even names.

    Thanks for a great post, Roxanne!

  5. Melissa,

    I'm glad you found spreadsheets helpful, even if you adopted them a bit reluctantly. Is is the organization you don't like or the technology?

    Glad for another shout-out for the Book Buddy! :-)

    Crit partners and/or readers are worth gold.

  6. Lisa,

    If you keep your novels in Shelby Lake, a concept Debbie Macomber recommends, then you're going to have a lot of details to keep track of. ;-)

    Glad you've got continuity gals by way of your editor and copy editor.

  7. I've used a spread sheet to keep track of continuity. It's helpful too if you want to go back to a chapter and check on something...what was it the heroine said when the hero confronted her about his sister?

    I also made my own massive brainstorming worksheet that helps me keep track of the lie he/she believes or the truth that sets them free. I like to do this at the beginning since it helps me keep the person true to character.

  8. I use a notebook. When I think of things I write it down. Its easy to carry with me to make notes about some plot idea that pops in my head during work (don't tell my boss), or just to keep track of the details (hair/eye color, names).

    Great post! Thanks for the other ideas.

  9. Teri,

    I'd love to see your brainstorming worksheet sometime. It sounds like you've created a great resource!

  10. Jennie,

    No matter what system an author primarily uses, she ought to carry a notebook for those light bulb moments.

    Don't worry; your secrets safe. I'd never tell your boss. ;-)

  11. I make a calendar of the month on paper and write in all the things that happen on that day. I also print out the calendar for that year to see when the moon came out and when the actual holidays took place. I think it helps the reader really feel like they are there. It does me:)

  12. Ginger,

    That's an awesome idea. Thanks for sharing!

  13. nice post thanks for sharing looking for to visit more...blessings

  14. My Little Cottage,

    What a cute name! Thanks for stopping by. Hope you visit again.

  15. I was away (w/o internet) just read this today--I'm still improving my system including an idiot-proof back-up system. Always appreciate your writings, Roxanne, and you.