I am a Melbourne based writer, primarily of speculative fiction. I find the writing process fascinating; the links below include examples of my work, fiction and non fiction, but also another story. How has a chapter evolved? How have places and the fictions of others informed and inspired my own. How do I research, develop ideas and turn them into narrative? Each page offers a different insight into the work and the story behind the work.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Avoiding Interrupted realities

Continuity errors in Star Wars (1977)

On the rare occasions when I actually sit through the credits at the end of a feature film, I not infrequently wonder how the work of so many teams and individuals, and the contribution from their varied professional activities reaches the screen as any kind of coherent whole, let alone as an immersive experience one might enjoy and at times admire as art.
Besides producer, director, editor and actors, those whose roles in the filmaking process we perhaps most often focus on, there are clapper loaders, key grips, best boys, Foley artists and dozens if not hundreds of others...
How different is this from the solitary labours of the novelist - a kind of ultimate auteur? Yet there are aspects of filmmaking that find their parallel in the construction of novels, and one I bet many haven't much considered is that of continuity.
Continuity is a dedicated profession in filmmaking and vital to avoid jarring the viewer and interrupting the flow of narrative reality upon the screen. Films are almost always shot out of sequence, for reasons of production economy.  Thus an actress who walks into a building on location on day one of shooting - and from the perspective of the final edited film, then walks into a room - may actually being walking onto a set thousands of miles away, weeks or even months later.
Careful record keeping and precise planning is needed to ensure what you see on screen is sufficiently seamless not to draw your attention to the fact that you are watching a constructed illusion. A fairly typical example is making sure the actress in the prior example who walks into the building wearing a red dress, does not arrive in the interior clad in a blue one. More complex examples include the challenges of scenes including actors smoking, leading continuity people to cut various lengths of cigarettes to ensure they burn in a linear and reductive fashion across the number of takes that might be necessary to capture the scene we see in the movie.
Lacking the visual complexity of a filmed reality... or unreality, novels do not suffer from quite as many issues as films in this regard, but they do still have issues of continuity. Characters pick things up and put them down, events they experience need to make logical sense and the origin of things they use need to be explained if important to the story.
I can certainly attest to the challenge of getting these details right when writing a novel. It can take several years to complete a book, and in that time you might work backwards and forwards through the narrative hundreds of times, writing and rewriting. After some time, certain passages can become blind spots through familiarity, or you might reach a stage of focusing primarily on the flow of prose or particular emotive slant of a section of dialogue and become oblivious to details of the novel's reality that are illogical or inconsistent. It may also transpire that cutting out a scene or passage betters the flow of the narrative, but if you forget a small detail established in that scene, its removal can have unitended consquences.

Sometimes these errors are quite obvious to the reader, at other times the reader may not quite notice them without taking care and attention, but they can still have an unconscious effect - a feeling that something isn't quite right.

Believe it or not, there is actually an editor here in Australia who specialises in this kind of thing. Phill Berrie is a Canberra based writer and businessman, with a sciences background who offers this rather intriguing service

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