Vaughn C. Hardacker here: In my last blog I discussed the importance of characters in writing a series. I ended that blog introducing the concepts of consistency and continuity and will make them the primary subject of this blog.
In my last blog I defined these elements as:
- Agreement or logical coherence among things or parts.
- Reliability or uniformity of successive results
- Conformity with previous attitudes, behavior, and practice
- The state or quality of being continuous
- An uninterrupted succession or flow; a coherent whole
- The property of a continuous and connected period of time
- Smooth, without break
The definitions themselves are pretty straight forward. However putting them into your writing can be a challenge. In my novel Sniper I introduced three main characters (not including the antagonist), two, Anne Bouchard and Michael Houston, I intended to have continuing roles if I chose to make the novel book one of a series. These characters had several strengths in common (a strong belief in what is right and what is wrong, dedication to their careers, etc.) and some individual weaknesses (Mike was dealing with a divorce, a blossoming drinking problem,
and struggling to understand and deal with a hostile young adult daughter–all issues that I have dealt with in my life. Anne was struggling to be successful in a male-oriented quasi-military organization and doing so in a manner that told the other detectives she had earned her success and handed it as a token female). What I ended up with was a tough-acting male protagonist who made a point of appearing as if he had everything under control and needed no assistance and a female protagonist who had to be tough while preserving her softer side. When she is informed that she was being partnered with Houston she was not happy. Her opinion of him was that he was a hedonistic ass (which he was). Houston had been working solo (due to the fact that no experienced detective would be his partner) and was very upset to be told that he was going to be partnered with Anne. The bulk of the interaction between the two was the bond that grew as they learned about one another and a relationship, both professional and personal, formed.
The third character was not intended to be a major influence in the book nor in any subsequent one. It was Jimmy O’Leary (Jimmy O) and unbeknownst to me he became equally as important as Mike and Anne. Jimmy was a street tough and childhood friend of Houston. They grew up in South Boston but their lives came to a fork in the road. They took different forks; Mike finished high school, went into the U. S. Marine Corps, and became a cop. Jimmy dropped out of school, entered a life of petty crime that resulted in his joining Whitey Bolger’s mob, and became the head of his own criminal organization. Over the years they maintained their close relationship (Mike married Jimmy’s sister). Mike made a point of informing his superiors of the relationship and they were able to ensure he wasn’t assigned a case that involved Jimmy.
Jimmy was a ruthless gang boss, but he had his own sense of ethics. He wanted no part of the drug trade and became a court of last resort for the poverty stricken people who came to him for help. His biggest dislike was for pedophiles and child abusers. To my surprise, when people met me and discussed the book all they wanted to talk about was Jimmy. For example, Jimmy is a chain-smoker. One reader, a reformed smoker, told me that after reading about Jimmy he needed to go outside for fresh air and thought he could smell cigarette smoke on his clothes… Jimmy had elevated himself into being a primary character going forward.
So, by now you are asking: “What does all this have to do with consistency and continuity?” I wrote The Fisherman. Throughout the project I had to constantly look at
every scene and answer a few questions:
- Does this scene conform with previous attitudes, behavior, and practice with the characteristics I gave each character in Sniper?
- If the answer to #1 was yes then all was fine. If no, I had to fix it or develop it in a
manner that shows it illustrating growth on the part of the character(s). For instance in Sniper, Anne does not like Jimmy, but over the course of the story she came to understand the bond between Jimmy and Mike and appreciate his better points.
- Does this scene show a continuous pattern of growth on the part of the characters?
- Does this scene fit into the series chronology? For example: if the purpose of the scene (section) is to show growth, ensure it comes after the scene that introduced the character flaw.
So in closing, as you write additional entries in the series ensure that your writing shows agreement or logical coherence among things or parts, reliability or uniformity of successive results, and conformity with previous attitudes, behavior, and practice as well a continuous and connected period of time with a smooth transition.
Keep watch for the next entry in my Ed Traynor series, My Brother’s Keeper (a prequel to Black orchid).