Consistency? What's that?

Consistency is what makes the security of life. If we sit back and think about it, all around we have evidence that security is an illusion. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Well, Yuk! Who likes that? No one. Not forever. Not even thrill seekers, those living the very edge of adrenaline, want to be in the dark about where a good meal and a great bed can be found.
But, as writers, we deal with fantasy, imagination, not reality. Is consistency important to us? Will it advance a plot? Will it carve itself into the characters of our work? Will it kill the urgency of our mental adventure?
Why not?
Because there is a deep human need for consistency even to the point of foolishness. We don't like wishy-washy thought processes--even though many of us are mired in them regularly. We don't like not knowing where our car is, that's why we have habits of always parking in the same place--if we can. We don't like our spouses coming home with wild ideas of what togetherness is all about--unless they are consistently exploring it and we're used to those explorations!
What will we do about this consistency issue? Cater to it, ya dunderheads. Oops, my pirate story is interrupting me. Did it pop you out of your need for consistency in this explanation? Well, so too do little inconsistencies in your story. Experienced writers are able to automatically edit these as they write. The rest of us may have to go back and re-read our story to edit them out.
What are we to look for?
1. Are the characters staying consistent in their physical abilities and actions?
2. Are the characters staying consistent in their mental talk? Their speech?
3. Is everyone staying consistent in their time period, their world, their relationships?
4. Are all of the secondary portions of the story staying consistent? The friends? The accouterments? The food? Weather?
Having looked for all of the above and fixed them, what do we do next? We make sure and solid that in catering to the desire for consistency, we make sure the style of our story fits the genre we're writing in? Why? Because a romance reader wants to read romance. An adventure reader wants to read adventure. A western reader wants to read westerns. What's a romance supposed to consistently have in it? A pair un-united that becomes united. Depending upon the sub-genre, the pair can be human or different species, but they must become united. That's a deal breaker. They must live happily ever after. That too is a deal breaker. There must be a sense of unity by reason of passion--the passion can be expressed or unexpressed, but it must be present in the room or the next, with the door closed or the next scene that exists only in the reader's mind--but it must be there.
The plot. What must it be to be consistent? Ah, but here is where we get to play. A plot is the sticky stuff we put our characters in. Consistency here is making sure that the type of sub-genre stays within certain unspoken guidelines. When experienced personnel in the writer's world you're trying to enter tell a writer to read within the publishing line they hope to sell to, this is where the unspoken guidelines come into play. Readers want consistency to the point they are stubbornly obsessive about reading stories like ones they've enjoyed reading before. About the only time they'll jump to another author is when their favorite author isn't keeping up with their reading speed and they need another book.
The value of consistency is a following of readers. The value of a following of readers is the warm breath of admiration. And who couldn't use more of that? The value of admiration also adds to the value of a writer to a publisher who rewards the writer with cold hard cash allowing a writer to keep themselves in shelter as they craft the next magical tale to warm a heart.
A savvy writer could then conclude that catering to the soul deep human need for security guaranteed by consistency is the very reason we exist and are encouraged to write. Since the security of consistency is so important, we should make sure the type of story we want to write is true to ourselves--we'll be doing consistent stories a looooonnnng time if our readers like what we do. The reward of the value of consistency in our writing and being true to our own stories is a long writing career. Be consistent. Be secure. Be happy.


Penny Rader said...

Thanks for another great, thought-provoking post, Nina. I didn't know you're writing a pirate story! Cool beans, as my lil sis would say.

I'm one of those writers who has to go back and edit. My first drafts are pretty ugly. Actually, revising/editing is my favorite part of the whole writing process. That's where I feel most secure 'cause that means I finally have some words on the page.

Nina Sipes said...

I'm glad you put it that way as I'm the type who can't leave anything undone before I go forward and then STILL HAVE TO COME BACK AND FIX SOME MORE. I never seem to have the words to say what I really mean. (Picture wrist on forehead) It's really fatiguing. I never thought about words as security. I'll put some thought into that. Maybe it will help me forward.