I read a post recently about keeping a “series bible” so you’d always get the minutiae right as you add more books to the series.
I take a different perspective. I’ll meander toward it.
First, an excerpt from my very first book The Commonsense Entrepreneur. It’s about musicians, but in most ways it applies to authors as well:
It’s a classic mistake musicians make: garage bands playing clubs will invariably include long blazing guitar solos, at least one drum solo, some fancy bass work—hey, let’s show off our musicianship.
Nobody but other musicians, and they’re 1) a smaller demographic than ‘everyone’ and 2) usually in the lower ranges of your economic target (what’s the difference between a guitar player and a medium pizza? The medium pizza can feed a family of four.)
So, if you’re obsessing about quality on your recordings, unless you’re recording exclusively for other musicians, you’re wasting your time. No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t care. Just applying some Voltaire something-or-other about good enough versus perfect.
Learn from a Master
Rex Stout’s creation Nero Wolfe is one of the great personalities in fiction. He and Archie Goodwin are an unstoppable team. They’re also the victims of endless inconsistency.
(Though much of this is my own observation, I culled details from the Wikipedia article on Nero Wolfe.)
- Wolfe’s New York brownstone is at 10 different addresses, all of them impossible.
- Though the books were published over a span of 40 years, no character ages despite the world changing around them.
- Details about secondary characters change. Saul Panzer’s marital status. Orrie Cather’s full first name (Orvald? Orville? Orrin? Stout answers only “Probably.”)
Surely there was a good reason that a brilliant author, a man in his second career (the first was banking, from which he retired after creating a system still used by most of the world’s banks) would fail the consistency test.
Yeah, there is. Laziness. That, and having a fictitious character to blame. Stout’s primary biographer, John McAleer writes in Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout that Stout blames “laziness . . . Of course all discrepancies in the Nero Wolfe stories are Archie Goodwin’s fault.”
What’s an Author to Do About Fussy Readers?
How about ignoring them?
This is where the musical excerpt above comes in.
I don’t perform for other musicians. I specifically avoid it, in fact, because although I’m a good songwriter, I’m a mediocre musician on my best day.
Should there happen to be a musician in my audience, and should they happen to be disappointed, and should they [shudder] happen to mention their disappointment, guess what I do about it?
They’re not my audience.
Readers who will note inconsistencies in Phil Brennan’s directions to the library or Web Martin’s thoughts on Irish history or my next main character’s attitude about abstract art — they’re welcome to take all the notes they want, but those details are not the point.
A good storyteller is not constrained by facts. One of my favorite movie quotes: Geoff Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale announcing to Will “I’m a writer; I give the truth scope!”
Consistency of character? Probably good in your series’ main character, though we’re inconsistent creatures. Consistency of writing style? Absolutely. If the first book is noir and the second is dancing cats, be prepared for hate mail from fans.
But spending time ensuring the consistency of details which have no bearing on a reader’s vicarious experience of your story?