The Importance of Consistency in Fiction Writing

Just how consistent is your story? 

Fiction writing is about clarity and how not to confuse and befuddle your readers. That means writing a story that doesn’t detract or distract in any way, and that the choices you make for the story remain consistent.

Is it as perfect as it can be or are there inconsistencies hidden in the narrative?  Sometimes it can be hard to spot these flaws because we’ve written and read our stories so much, we get a little ‘word blind’ from time to time. But inconsistencies are like little bugs that hide in plain sight and if you’re not careful, they can cause all manner of problems, especially if you need to get your manuscript as perfect as it can be for submission to agents and publishers.

Inconsistencies can be anything, which is why they are sometimes hard to spot. They can occur anywhere in narrative, dialogue and description, and it’s mainly at the read through and editing stages that they’re spotted and rooted out.

Consistent Characters

Your characters will have their own personalities and behaviours that the reader will become familiar with as the story develops, so if you deviate from these patterns, the reader will notice. That’s why it’s important to maintain character consistency – that they would act in a way that is right and in keeping with their personality, rather than making them act out of character to make elements of the story fit.

Consistent Background Detail

As with everything in writing, if you make a choice, stick with it. Background details are no different.

It’s easy to forget the minor details sometimes, but your reader or editor won’t miss them. For example, in one scene in chapter three, you describe an ornate church in a picturesque town, but you forget what you wrote by chapter seven and suddenly the church develops a clock.

Or may be that the city landscape that forms the backdrop to your story keeps changing, because we often forget what we’ve written in earlier chapters.

It’s so easy to forget such details, so it’s important to pay attention to everything in the background.

Consistent Names and Places

This is one of the most common to muddle. How often have you spotted place names that have changed mid-way through the novel? For example, a town called Millford might change to Milleford. Hulston could turn into Hullston. And it has been known for the names of places to change completely from what they originally were, for instance, somewhere called Haven in chapter four might re-appear as Woodbourne in chapter forty, simply because the author hasn’t paid enough attention when planning the story.

What about character names?  It’s not unusual for Jane to turn into a Jayne.  Or Roy to morph into Ray. Surnames can sometimes inadvertently change, especially if there are foreign characters.  It’s easy for letters within names to change without realising, which is why authors need to be vigilant. And that’s just one reason why all stories should be planned beforehand.

Know the names of your places and character names, right down to the last detail.

Consistent Timeline

Unless you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, pick a timeline and stick to it.  That means that whatever time period your story takes place, ensure the historical record is correct for that time. Key facts and figures may not seem important, but they are, because readers, editors and agents are very astute. They will spot if something isn’t right. So if a story takes place in 1985, make sure it doesn’t have things pop up that might be found prior to that year, or indeed after that year. 

Consistent Story

It’s probably the most important of all consistencies. It’s vital the story itself is consistent; otherwise this will immediately tell the reader, editor or agent that your writing is erratic and cannot be controlled. It’s not complex – ensure that your story doesn’t meander, deviate, go off in weird directions or has subplot threads that are left hanging. The story must always make sense; it must flow logically and it must end satisfactorily. If it doesn’t, it’s in consistent.

Consistency in fiction writing is really down to paying attention. Lots of attention. Plan your story – know it thoroughly; every character, every background or historical detail, every place name, every twist and turn, every sub plot and every moment.

Consistency means clarity and clarity means great writing.


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