Tag Archives: writing

The Importance of Consistency in Fiction

The appealing thing about writing fiction as opposed to nonfiction is having the ability to create one’s own reality in the prose.  Be it gravity, atmosphere, characters’ sensory perception, human anatomy and mortality, none of these things need to be bound to the limitations we ourselves feel in our daily lives.  This is a powerful tool that allows authors to explore and describe the world’s they create with interesting insights without having to worry about being in line with the minutiae details of modern physics, and let’s them appeal to the reader’s wonder about the infinite realm of possibilities concerning reality as it can be challenged by her/his imagination.

Science fiction is an excellent example of this, both in book and movie form, where entire alternate universes can be conjured up with their own set of logical rules and physical laws that characters have to abide by.  There is a pitfall in this whole formula, however, that’s easy to fall into if an author is not careful.  While it is true that the sole limitation to the worlds you create is the depth of your own imagination, it needs to be remembered that what makes even a fantasy world realistic and believable to the audience is that–once its rules and laws are laid out–it remains consistent to its own reality.

If characters in a story generally cannot fly, having a character suddenly appear in chapter ten who inexplicable flies is an example of inconsistency.  If the monsters of the story are initially described as slow moving and clumsy, having them give chase in the middle of the story to create suspense is an example of inconsistency.  Speech patterns are a similar issue, where if a character’s accent quirks are sometimes emphasized in text and other times they are not, this is an example of inconsistency.

Generally, in epic sagas like Lord of the Rings it is understood that occasional logical flaws will occur for the sake of keeping the plot going (i.e. why didn’t the Eagles just take Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom at the start of the books, because then the story would be resolved in one book, rather than a trilogy).  Small-scale errors most readers can forgive for the sake of the narrative.  It’s when bigger, more obvious gaps in logic occur that many start to raise their eyebrows suspiciously.  For example, why do the vampires in Twilight go to school?  They’re over a hundred years old in the story, what reason do they have to keep attending high school?  And since they don’t age, do they have to keep changing schools so as not to have to explain why they spent the last ten decades in the same exact grade?  Since they do have regular contact with humans via having to go to school, why aren’t more people suspicious about the fact that none of them have aged, ever?

Science fiction films tend to be even worse offenders to this rule of consistency.  The now forgotten 1994 time traveling movie Timecop, sets up a reality in which time travel exists.  Within this reality they make the explicit mention that you can only travel to the past, never to the future; essentially making this the one and only “time travel rule” the characters need to follow.  Yet, the plot goes on to break this rule almost immediately by having characters who have traveled back to the past return back to their former present; even though, technically, when they travel to the past that past becomes their present, so returning to their original timeline means they are traveling to the future, which is they one thing the plot explicitly states you cannot do in this time traveling reality.  And it’s never explained how this is possible, even in a halfhearted way.  The viewer is simply expected not to notice.  But we do, and we are naturally put off by it, even if we can’t fully articulate why at first viewing.

If you are setting out to write fiction, and epic fantasy fiction at that, by all means let your only limits be the depth of your own creativity.  But please, for the sake of all our collective rational senses (as well as the senses of the characters you have so painstakingly born onto the page), don’t cheapen the experience by failing to have your worlds adhere to the rules and laws of the realities you yourself saw fit to give life to on the page.  Your future legion of devoted readers and admirers will thank you for it.

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Why We Write

I’ve heard it said on several occasion that a writer’s best ally is maintaining a high degree of modesty in her/his work.  The reasoning behind this is obvious to most people in that no self-respecting reader wants to support the scribbles of a smug narcissist, convinced that her/his words are the world’s gift to human expression.  However, despite its practical value, the adage does ignore an important attribute all writer’s share to some degree:  namely, writers are narcissists.

Whether we’re aiming to share our words by traditional print media, or blogging free of charge in our spare time, there is something undeniably self-indulgent in our conviction that we not only have something of importance to add to a topic of discussion, but that the greater public might benefit in hearing our take on a subject matter, too.  And if you really don’t feel that you have anything worthwhile to say on a topic, why are you typing so many grueling posts testifying to the contrary?

Let it be clear, this is not a social criticism on my part.  Rather, it is a personal affirmation.  I write this blog precisely because I feel it is worth the time and effort, and–in a broader sense–hope that it offers some benefit to somebody, somewhere (even if just to avoid having to read for that book report you failed to research on your own).  Moreover, I have no shame in recognizing the benign egotism of the act.  I find humility, of course, in knowing that my opinions on the topics I discuss hold no more inherent value than anybody else’s.  Likewise, I find aggrandizement in the conviction that my opinions have as much of a right to be heard and shared as anybody else’s (whether anyone else agrees, I’ll readily leave to the free marketplace of ideas to decide).

Modesty, by virtue of consistent self-scrutiny, is definitely a valued tone writers and commentators should strive to maintain in the work they share with the world.  Yet, I feel it is also important to acknowledge how those of us who take the step of actually putting our thoughts and musings into a public forum, are also just a little bit full of ourselves.  Which, although always capable to evolving into a boorish vice, can also serve as an indispensable catalyst for creativity.  Ovid probably captured this sentiment best in the epilogue to his Metamorphosis:

Now I have done my work.  It will endure,

I trust, beyond Jove’s anger, fire and sword,

Beyond Time’s hunger.  The day will come, I know,

So let it come, that day which has no power

Save over my body, to end my span of life

Whatever it may be.  Still, part of me,

The better part, immortal, will be borne

Above the start; my name will be remembered

Wherever Roman power rules conquered lands,

I shall be read, and through all centuries,

If prophecies of bards are ever truthful,

I shall be living, always.

Our words, too, are immortalized, in the far reaches of cyberspace; leaving a piece of ourselves to forever be either derided or appreciated long after we have lost the ability to partake in the conversation.  Possibly a very humbling thought, but not really all that modest.

Consider this my welcoming post to the coming summer days, and the approaching half-year mark.  In case anyone can’t tell, my new year’s resolution was to strive to be more honest with myself (also to start spending more time outdoors, but I’ve been making that one 10 years in a row, and quit every time I notice just how uncomfortably bright the sun is).  So a jovial greeting to whoever happens to be reading.  Stay safe, positive, and slightly eccentric, wherever you are.