Writing process

How we learned to be more tolerant of continuity errors in books

Ghost horses, for reasons which will become clear in the post.

Recently, Sherylyn was reading a book, where halfway through, the protagonist’s horse dies.

That’s fine—well, not fine really, but these things happen in stories—except that, some chapters on, the protagonist is back riding that same horse, and continues to ride it for the rest of the novel.

Books with errors like these take you out of the story.  We’ve both been known to stop reading when errors like this happen.  This time, Sherylyn just shrugged, and kept reading.

“Sure,” she said.  “The horse is supposed to be dead, but it’s easy to make a mistake like that. And I’m enjoying the story.”

Since we got published, we’re a lot more forgiving of continuity errors in books.

We’ve made a few of our own.  One particularly egregious one in Linesman—or it might have been Alliance—that nearly slipped through was where Ean and company were attacked by a ship that had been destroyed many pages earlier. That got picked up by the copy editor.

Thank goodness for copy editors, is all I can say.

The thing is, when you’re editing, especially when you’re editing to a deadline, you can make mistakes.  Unless you’re a really organised writer (sad to say, not us yet) you’ve read the book so many times you just can’t, possibly, read the whole thing through once more. Or if you do read it through, you’re reading what you expect to see, not what’s really on the page.

There’s one place for errors to creep in.

A beta read will pick them up, or your own reread after you have put the book aside for a while. If you have the time.  But what if you’re making edits as a result of the beta read?

Another place for errors to creep in is in the edits you do after you send your finished story away, and your editor letter comes back, with notes and recommendations for changes.  We have this mad scramble to make the changes in the time given.  We don’t know about other writers, but we move chunks of the book around at this time. And we often add scenes. Like maybe, an extra fight.  Which is how we ended up with Ean being chased by a spaceship that had been destroyed earlier.

You’re doing this to a deadline, too.  While you try your hardest to fix every single issue that your changes have introduced, you’re always rushed, you’re on a deadline, and you’re too close to the work.

That’s why we’re so grateful for those second and third editing eyes at the publisher.

And why we’re more tolerant nowadays of continuity errors that once would have thrown us out of a story.  Especially on a writer’s earlier books.  We don’t like them, and work hard to avoid them, but they are so easy to miss.

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