Catching Inconsistencies in your Novel

There’s more to editing than polishing your prose and fine tuning your story. Let’s assume that you’ve got the basic spelling and grammar checking nailed. Let’s also assume that you’re pulling your hair out at every editing session trying to impress the Man Booker [1] judges in two year’s time. The story is the story, love it or hate it, you’re not changing that.

What does that leave?

The boring stuff. All that dull, grunt work that doesn’t have a creative side, that doesn’t require a spark of anything to complete. The price checking of your novel, the manual lifting that anyone with a pair of shoulders can do, the toilet cleaning that has to get done or someone will lose their job.

Spotting inconsistencies in your novel is one of the hardest things for a writer to do. Every one of those 80,000 words was written by you. You re-read paragraph after paragraph, page after page. Only you don’t, not really. You wrote it, you sweated over it, it sang to you. You remember, on some level, every one of those sentences. You start to read, but more often than not you’re reading from your memory, not from the page.

Did you rename a secondary character half way though? Is there a lingering mention of that first name on page 57 and page 321? If there is, chances are you won’t see it. In your mind’s eye Bill and Jethro are the same person.

What about those minor characters? Rafael the Spanish doorman in chapter one, who resurfaces as Dimitri, holding the door open in chapter eighteen.

Or the Deluded Pyromaniacs Organisation (DPO), who were responsible for a particularly nasty letter way back when your protagonist was getting out of bed for the first time, only to become the Deluded Pyromaniacs Association (DPA) when he notices a placard wielding chain smoker on a street corner as the plot comes to a close.

Spotting these sorts of minor inconsistencies is hard work for a writer. But your editor, and reader, will notice them every time. It’s the sort of carelessness that gets you one star reviews on Amazon, and a head smacking over on Goodreads.

Here’s the sales pitch: SmartEdit helps with this. The dull, boring, shelf stacking side of editing that nobody wants to do but that still has to get done.

There are two checks in SmartEdit that draw attention to just these sorts of inconsistencies — the Proper Nouns List and the Acronyms List. Both work in the same way, pulling out lists of every proper noun and every acronym in your novel, and displaying them alongside a sentence fragment for context.

Running this check will throw up a list that includes DPO and DPA, probably right next to each other, and also D.P.O., if that’s the direction your inconsistency runs. Deluded Pyromaniacs Organisation will be there, as will the Deluded Pyromaniacs Association, sitting side by side.

Bill, Jethro, Rafael and Dimitri will all put in a cameo. A quick eyeball, outside the cushion of your beloved prose really does help to identify phantom character names that were consigned to the trash months ago.

There’s nothing creative about ironing out these sorts of issues, but it has to be done. If you’re a professional writer, you need to produce professional work, and that includes getting rid of the inconsistencies that plague amateur and poorly edited work.

[1] If you’re American, Man Booker = English Pulitzer.

20 Mar 2014