Tag Archives: push yourself

#SaystheEditor Character Consistency



“Why is it,” I muttered under my breath, or maybe in that part of my writer’s brain that’s always writing and narrating, “that the boy is so damn good about getting up every day at 6AM for school but can’t get up at 8AM twice a week to volunteer at the local township’s camp?”

The answer, of course, is multi-layered:
1. Mom’s cranky when she has to get him up in the morning
2. He doesn’t care as much about volunteering at the local township’s camp as he does about not missing the bus
3. It’s summer and he wants to be lazy and have zero responsibilities, even though he’s started to work on his Eagle project
4. It’s summer and he’s been staying up late, as is the right and responsibility of every teenager ever. Circadian rhythms and all that.
5. He likes being awakened by a smart-aleck of a mom.
6. It’s two days a week instead of five, and harder to find a rhythm.

But if you strip out those reasons, you’re left without character consistency.

In fiction, this can be taken a few ways:
1. It’s bad writing because characters should be consistent to themselves
2. If this was Young Adult, it’s a Sign! Of a Big Problem! a Tragedy! And the parents must now investigate, but they are bumbling idiots, so it’s up to the younger sibling (usually a girl) who is the main point of view character and who will now save the day.
3. The author is using the lack of character consistency to signal a left turn in the plot and character arc that you didn’t see coming (refer back to #1)

Most of the time, it’s taken as a sign of bad writing, not a flaw in the character. (note: MOST of the time) And a lot of the time (note: A LOT, not all and not most), you can avoid being called a bad writer by taking a bit more time to show what’s going on. The mom who wakes up at 1AM to see the light seeping through the cracks in the door, or hears him talking to his friends via Skype or voice chat or whatever he’s using this week. Maybe you show that the kid needs the interaction with his mom, who’s a lot less cranky two hours later and a heck of a lot funnier or more reasonable (You’d have to ask him how different I am without the pressure of “No, I am NOT schlepping your rear the whole way to school so get moving” and all.) — as always with fiction, there are a million possibilities.

Which means that it’s okay to let your characters be inconsistent from time to time, especially in the early drafting stages. You can revise them into submission later. But, like I’m always encouraging you, push yourself. Stretch. Don’t fall into Reason #2 time and time again. Do you see how many cliches I packed into that one point?

Don’t be a cliche packer. (wow. That sounds… wrong)

Push yourself. Stretch your writerly wings. Once you do, you can either revise and work on crafting it into perfection, or you can revise and edit it out until no one knows you tried.

But you’ll know. And if you’re the kid of writer I know you are, all you who struggle with Inherent Writerly Insecurity, you’ll learn from the experiment. Which means that next time, you’ll be less likely to fail.

Go for it. Character consistency. Character INconsistency — except, it’s not inconsistent. Not when you get done with it.