Who is this person? How does she talk and think? Where did she come from—and where does she want to be? What are her goals? Our reality is an elaborate game, one with plenty of strict rules that make it playable. Gravity pulls us down. The sun rises in the east. The Pope is Catholic. Without these rules maintaining the consistency of our world, how would we live? Our lives would be thrown into chaos, and nothing would make sense. In order for your readers to fully lose themselves in your fictional universe, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required.
Consistency in your world-building facilitates suspension of disbelief, because it makes everything line up—the reader can ignore the exact content of the rules, because they all fall into place together; in contrast, violations of that consistency will jolt your readers out of the story. Internal consistency means that the rules that govern your story on page one will continue to govern it on page A good way to ensure this kind of internal logic is to actually sit down and write out the rules your fictional world should follow.
If your story uses a magic system, how does it work? What do spells cost, and who can use them? What terrible, oppressive laws are in effect? And how did things get so bad? Consider creating supplementary materials for your story: Not only will these help you keep your world in order, but you can publish them along with your novel as entertaining appendices.
Names all have unique sounds and feels to them, and can conjure different emotions in the minds of readers simply based on intuition. Is Judd Applebaum the distinguished physicist, or is Horace Kirkhope? What is the name of the vampire-infested structure, Castle Tiggs or Castle Greyspine? Your decisions may be at least partially influenced by genre conventions, of course, but never discount the snap judgements your readers will make based the mere sounds of the names they read.
And this is a little more complicated than just calling certain things by one name all the time—though even that can be tricky. What if your novel has fictional titles for its royalty and nobility?
Which is bigger, an F-class starship, or an M-class? Does your novel include any dialogue or words from a fictional language, and if so, what do they mean? Consistency in naming means consistency in naming conventions, and special care must be taken to safeguard it. Consider creating a glossary for your fictional world. For characters, spell out their full names and titles, as well as any nicknames other characters might have given them.
For locations like cities and named buildings, include a list of where they are, who lives in them, and what their significance is. Chronology is essential to narrative. This is relatively simple if you tell your story in a straightforward manner, but there are many stylistic choices an author can make that can complicate things. Flashbacks, time travel, multiple concurrent plotlines or perspectives… the list goes on. And to make things more complicated, issues with consistent timelines can be the most distracting of all the flaws a novel can have!
Imagine you were reading a book where the narrator flashed back to a traumatic moment from his youth—say, to when his mother was tragically killed. And, of course, make a note of your parameters in your ISG for reference.
How and when do you use bold, underlining and italics? Especially in headings and sub-headings but in main text too? In similar vein, colour. How and when do you use differential colour in fonts or background shading? Lists are another thing prone to inconsistency, including numbering approach, and bullet styles and sizes, indentation and punctuation.
In my earlier blog I covered list punctuation , where good practice allows four equally valid styles. I recommended at the very least sticking to one individual style within a single list even if you are not flawlessly consistent within a piece. Tables are so easy to overlook, which can easily create an adverse impression that your work is messy and unprofessional.
Develop and note down some parameters on how you use them, including some of the core elements mentioned earlier: My colleague John Espirian has written an excellent detailed blog on that topic. Stylistic variables are the main meat and drink of most style guides: For some, or most, elements of style there are just no right answers and many equally valid ways of doing things. The extra degrees of freedom that this gives the writer, far from being welcomed as a boon to creativity and individuality, can actually be a source of great stress: You can use it for almost anything you like.
Here are some examples of more idiosyncratic usage questions or problems that could belong in your ISG, if they happen to be problems or issues for you. The passive voice is sometimes given a hard time by plain English commentators and advocates even though it often delivers more clarity than its active equivalent. Still, it can be over-used! Because prepositions are often idiosyncratic — i. You can even include Flesch readability targets in some situations: Many technical or modern words have no definitive correct styling: Make a note of which one you use and stick to it.
This also applies to hyphenation. Technical and business language, even if it falls short of jargon, will always be coming up with usages that defy standardisation — for the time being. You may need to do the standardisation yourself. I edited a piece of business content recently which had over thirty words that could legitimately have taken a hyphen or not.
Without including each individual one in the Style Guide I developed for that piece, there would have been widespread inconsistencies even within the same document. Do it for yourself, in your own ISG, if you are working on content that is liable to include lots of technical language.
Hart is shorthand for the Oxford Style Guide, the doyen of style guides for professional writers and editors in English. Other prominent professional style guides that are commercially available are the Chicago Manual of Style , the Guardian and Observer Style Guide and the Economist Style Guide this is the 10th edition; currently being revised.
The reason for mentioning these is that one very important feature of your ISG is to have a default or backup, in case a style decision is needed which is not covered by your ISG and is important to determine.
All good ISGs have this kind of default reference, with a preferred ordering. Failing that, make a decision and put it in my ISG! Excellent as all these publications are, it is no solution to simply defer to one without bothering to develop your own ISG.
The point is that an ISG is individual to your personal content, problems and usage; which no commercial style guide can expect to achieve.
Five Ways that Consistency Matters. 7 February, By Geoff Hart. Thomas Mann observed that "a writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people". That's because professional writers know they need to eliminate obstacles to .
Consistency Similarly, it’s important that the overall appearance of the presentation is consistent. Not only is it less confusing or distracting, but having a consistent visual theme will subconsciously show the audience that the .
When you have content in lots of different places, it can be a challenge to maintain consistency in writing. But, it’s a necessary challenge. A writing voice that varies from medium to medium, or even from page to page, can . Maintaining Consistency in Academic Writing and Research Manuscripts: A Free Checklist Summary Inconsistency is one of the most common errors made by authors writing scholarly manuscripts.
Consistency will bring harmony to your work. Simply being a writer makes writing more difficult for you than it is for other people because your reputation and livelihood rely on your work being the best it can be. Developing a consistency in writing will create a path for you to create 30, words in just 30 days without hurting yourself (or others) along the way.