Fifteen years ago, when I first started writing seriously, I remember what a struggle it was to keep things straight in my fantasy worlds. In one scene, my character Sam would hurl flaming hawks from his bow. Fifty pages later, that same bow would hurl ordinary arrows. Fifty more page, and he launched crossbow bolts. There was no consistency, or logic to it. And his weapon kept changing.
And don’t get me talking about consistency in the magic system. How come Sam could only work with such a tiny amount of magical power at the beginning of the novel, and at the end he could shape vast rivers of the stuff? That’s quite the character transformation.
And as for my cities and locales, well, rather than being inconsistent, my fantasy towns were too consistent. In fact, they were all the same. Cities built on the grid system, with homes of the standard medieval-style architecture. All cities have variety, and each individual city itself has different quarters with varied architectures and street layout, so you put the believability of your story at stake when every street in every city is the same.
3 Tips To Better Consistency In Your Stories
Set aside some time, and create a little folder in your work environment of choice. You’re going to be adding the following three items to it:
1) Character sheets.
Each character gets a full-page dedicated to him or her. Don’t skimp on the details. You’re going to put in their name, what they look like, their personality, their dialect including common words and expressions they use, favorite foods, inner conflicts, external conflicts, their back story, and their story goals.
Revisit this document every time you write a scene with that character until you have it almost memorized. And don’t be afraid to revise the character sheet as the story grows and things change. A lot of times my character sheets will start pretty empty, but by the end of the novel most of the major characters have a few pages or so of entries.
2) Magic system cheat sheets.
Similar to character sheets, I always put together a whole document on the magic system for any story or novel I’m writing. How the magic works, its limitations, the different disciplines and levels involved in the system, its effects on the world. Whenever I write a scene involving the magic system, I’ll constantly refer back to this document.
3) Draw maps of your world, its cities, and other key locations.
I usually sketch quick maps of the realm, the individual cities, and the major locations my characters live in and/or will visit. Quick is the vital word here. You don’t have to draw a masterpiece–unless you want to of course. I tend to put a lot of detail into world maps, and less detail into city and location maps.
Beneath the map, I’ll give a quick lowdown on the place–what kind of atmosphere it evokes, any notes on the architecture and different quarters, and so forth.
For the key locations, I’ll also write any descriptive phrases that pop into my head, so that I can use those phrases every time my characters return to the location and I want to refresh the place in the minds of the reader. Phrases like high ceiling, scales scattered on the floor, heat vents, smashed weapons, piles of treasure. The Setting Thesaurus by the talented ladies at The Bookshelf Muse is a good reference for phrases like that. The actual entries are on the far right-hand column of the linked page, under the Setting Thesaurus header.
Now it’s your turn. What techniques do you use to keep things consistent in your writing? Let me know your thoughts in the comment field below.
I love reading this kind of article! It Inspires me more! I also learn a lot through reading it!
Unfortunately I haven’t gotten far enough into my fantasy graphic novel to worry about consistency. One of the first things I did though, coincidentally was draw a map of the world that I was creating. It seemed to make sense and made a good graphic for the book. I don’t know if I’ll have the consistency problems because I’m working with visuals and each one takes a considerable amount of time and concentration. It’s different than putting words to a page that might flow out more easily, but might get more confusing to remember the details.
It just makes sense to draw a map, doesn’t it? A map helps ground you, the author, in the world, and when you eventually publish the book, it can help ground the reader as well. As far as consistency goes, Seth, I’d imagine that working on a graphic novel would make things even tougher, because you have visuals to worry about as well as story matters.
These are amazing tips for budding and want-to-be fictional writers. Consistency is indeed important. What would your readers say if your plot is all over the place?