Editing Tips: Keep Track of the Little Things

I wouldn’t consider myself an “expert” editor, but seeing as I’ve spent the last two months of my life editing Imminent Danger, I’d say I’m at least qualified to give out a few amateur tips.

Today’s topic revolves around keeping track of the little things. I’m not talking about punctuation, or spelling, or capitalization. I’m talking about remembering what your character is actually doing. As in, where are they in a particular scene? Are they standing? Are they sitting? If they were sitting and then stood up, are they still standing the next time we hop back to them? Are they holding anything? Do they not have it when they say their next line of dialogue? Where did it go?


My biggest faux-pas with this type of thing came not in Imminent Danger, but in a Harry Potter fanfiction I wrote years ago called Harry Potter and the Dream Come True. In the story, I had Harry get magical laser eye surgery so that he wouldn’t need his glasses. I promptly forgot about that, and in the next chapter he was wearing glasses. From that point on, in some chapters he wore them, and in some chapters he didn’t. My readers were furious. They demanded I change it. I had every intention of doing so, but then I went to university and forgot all about Harry and his mysterious disappearing and reappearing glasses. Heck, it’s Hogwarts. There are weirder things there than magic glasses, am I right?

I’m probably not. That’s okay, though. Moving on!

So I’ve compiled a handy list of little things in your book/novella/screenplay/poem that you might want to keep track of in order to prevent inconsistencies and what I call “Reader Rage”. Thus, I present to you:

Keep Track of the Little Things! (a checklist)

~ Position (e.g., sitting, standing, kneeling, crouching, sprawled unconscious on the floor)

~ Attire (e.g., glasses, hat, sandals, muumuu)

~ Appearance (e.g., eye colour, hair colour, height, weight, horrendous disfigurements)

~ Current Mood (e.g., happy, depressed, furious, lustful)

~ Possessions (e.g., weapon, precious heirloom, beverage, cell phone, super-weapon of ultimate destruction)

Okay, I ran out of ideas. But you get the point! You want to avoid an Ascanius situation at all costs. And for those of you who didn’t study Classical Studies extensively and haven’t read Virgil’s Aeneid (so, no one, right?), Ascanius is a kid who varies in age from a toddler to a teenager throughout the story based on what the situation demands from him. One moment he’s leading troops into battle, the next he’s being bounced on Dido’s lap. I’m simplifying things, obviously, but that’s his age problem in a nutshell.

There aren’t enough pictures in this post, so here are various representations of Ascanius in art. Note how he varies from (winged?) baby to teenager to child:

Minor logical consistencies are indeed minor, but they’re still hella annoying if you notice them while reading. So fix them before that happens!

Random link of the day (ultimate troll edition):

Note before clicking: “Ken M” is a person who goes around and posts “troll” comments for his or her own amusement. Other commenters don’t understand he is “trolling”, and react poorly.



Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Editing Tips: Keep Track of the Little Things

  1. Have to re-read and keep. The brilliance of your site itself was blinding me!! In a great way. Yeah, Michelle.

  2. Oh, this is so true. I caught my hero taking a shower three times in a scene. Funny, but I’m glad I caught it. Love Harry Potter having laser surgery! Good advice here.

  3. Good advice. I think it’s important to visualize the scene after you’ve written it to make sure you haven’t left a hole in your reality. This is why you should ask other people to read your work before you send it out. They might see something you missed.

    • Oh, definitely. That’s why all my friends pretend to be extremely busy with work whenever I finish a new story draft. They don’t want to be sucked into reading, lol.

  4. Great article. And underscores why editing is so important. One inconsistency, even one typo, and our world we so carefully created comes crashing down for the dear reader. Keeping this and great job.

    • Typos aren’t deal-breakers if they’re extremely minor and barely noticeable, but usually, yes, they break the spell we’ve so carefully woven. Three cheers for editing!

      • Yes, true. In keeping with your post, very true. One tool to help this is Spacejock’s free yWrite. It keeps a timeline and you can look back on all of your writing to see tools-mulligan down to a glass, when or if he ate/decided to skip breakfast; basically anything you ‘tag’ in your writing will show up. I think he is still on version 5, which was the latest as I updated it a few months ago. Helps the editing process wonderfully.
        And I have read Aeneid. And also hate trolls. (Thanks for the heads up.) Come visit my new site at http://thepointofthequill.com. Yes, I have passed over, but the hard way, not click and pay way. Best. Lee

  5. I don’t understand random trolling

    • The guy is having fun by saying stupid things. And then he has more fun when people don’t recognize his jokes as jokes.

      Or wait … were YOU just trolling ME with that comment? Ahhh! Trolling is so confusing!

  6. Good post. I know what you mean about glasses; I kept forgetting that my main character wore them so had to go back and slip in mentions to his taking them off, putting them on, polishing them, etc. Ditto smoking; another of my characters mentions that she smokes early in the book, but then never again until I (the weary author) popped instances of smoking into every scene or two. Tedious but necessary. And as for actions, some of the hardest bits of writing for me have been where I find it necessary to get someone from point A to point B logically, but it seems so trivial and can add so many words! The mental movie-maker has to do Take 2, Take 3, Take 4, etc. “Let’s try it again — he puts the cup down and then he stands up and walks toward the door before he collapses. Take 5!” Definitely one of the less glamorous aspects of writing.

    • I wish there were a way to just skip all that Point A to Point B stuff. But then things get very confusing, and you lose track of where you are and what’s happening. Sigh.

  7. Ah, yes. Continuity errors. I taught myself about these after seeing them in movies from a young age. They often occur when a scene is shot separately from two different angles or bits are taken from two takes and an actors hair is different like Dudley Dursley’s in HP1.
    And I quickly realised this applies in writing, too.
    I recently contributed my piece to Write a Story with Jennifer M Eaton (links on my blog) and nearly got bitten by exactly that. Keeping track of what other writers have written before you is even harder because it wasn’t originally in your own head!

    • Ahhh, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve embarked on the write-a-page-pass-it-on story more than once, and it never ends well. The first attempt suffered from massive copyright infringement, and the second attempt petered out due to insanity on the part of several of my fellow writers. So … hopefully your attempt goes better!

  8. I find it helpful to keep a chapter summary. Chapter name, how chapter advances plot, short summary, character POV & word count. I made a work sheet so I can reuse it every time. It’s color coded: blue for rough ideas, red for changes, green for cuts, black when complete, so I can tell at a glance what needs work. I make a list of notes at the bottom. This also helps later when you need a synopsis for submission, because the basic work is already done as you go along.

    • That sounds like a fantastic organizational tool, but I can tell you now I’d never be able to use it properly. I’d get through a few chapters, become distracted by something else (probably shiny), and forget all about it. Alas 😦

  9. This is great information especially if you write the way I do; scenes all over the place in the novel, then go back and patch them together. I have been keeping a small notebook, but I love SeaLaughing’s idea.

    • Yeah, the chapter summary idea is great, if you can remember to actually do it 😀 If you write kind of scattered, I believe there’s a program out called Scrivener that’s really good for keeping track of the various scenes in your novel. You should check it out if you don’t know about it already.

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