For anyone who has written a novel that shifts between the past and the present, it can be a tricky thing to keep track of time. I struggled for months to keep notes on the ages of my characters and the timeline of my story, a task which involved a level of organization that I had not previously employed. But when draft after draft, I added or subtracted years between events, I was grateful for it.
I don’t kid myself that no one will notice. Not even for a second. I don’t know about you, but I have a disturbing memory for details and I know I would notice if Ben was 52 in 1975 and then 60 in 1981. I do the math. And I suspect most readers do, too.
Years ago, when I was an art director at a magazine, I saw first-hand the difficult job of the copy editor, picking up tiny mistakes that had been missed in articles, saving everyone involved varying degrees of embarrassment. Having that appreciation for a copy editor’s work, I most certainly feel a tremendous responsibility to deliver the sharpest and most accurate manuscript I can. It shouldn’t be up to a copy editor to catch that I’ve made Matthew’s hair ash on page 67 and then golden blond on page 118.
So as the time draws nearer to delivering the final draft of LITTLE GALE GUMBO to my editor, I think about all the little things that I might miss in a final read-over, not just ages and dates. A character smiling too many times in a single scene, or worse, someone’s eyes changing color (and not from contact use) from one scene to the next.
To make sure I don’t, I’ve constructed a character journal and listed all the physical traits I’ve assigned to my characters. I have been in awe of how many times I’ve returned to double-check–not because I don’t know my characters inside and out, but because I know how easy it is to trip up on the little things in the heat of writing.
Any of you have any tricks for mastering the little things, or any novels you’ve written that have posed a similar challenge?
How about any books you’ve read that have included continuity details that have slipped through the editing cracks?