Inspiration from Sitcoms: Consistency – Lesson III of V

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

We are continuing our series on getting great writing advice from sitcoms. Lesson I can be found here, and Lesson II is here.

The storyline is always backed up by whatever the characters say and do. With the exception of physical comedy, the jokes come from what the characters say when they are put in different situations. In order for this to work across the board, you must be consistent with what the characters say and do. This might require that you go back and read what you’ve done with your characters before so that you don’t end up with continuity errors. Continuity errors are most prevalent when a writer takes long breaks in between writing. If you are in the same head-space each time (and also have a good memory), you are less likely to have these errors. But if you aren’t, it will take more work to make sure that you don’t make them.

Borrowed from:
Borrowed from:

A good example of lack of consistency is from the sitcom ‘Til Death (starring Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond). In this sitcom, they changed the actress that played the daughter no less than three times. The physical changes were pretty obvious. The actor who played the daughter’s boyfriend stayed consistent the entire run of the show. The writers eventually came up with the idea to have the boyfriend repeatedly mention that his girlfriend had changed over the years, and the other characters said that he was just imagining things. It was a clever and interesting way that they addressed the continuity problem while dealing with the inconsistency of the actresses who played the daughter.

Here are some ideas to help you be consistent with your story.

1) Take notes on what your character has been through and why. Put them on index cards so you can easily compare later.

2) Keep your stories simple enough that you can remember any details that have happened, but complex enough that the story is uniquely your own. It’s tricky, but it can work depending on the structure of your story.

3) Have others review your work. After a while, you will have read your story so many times that you will read what is supposed to be there rather than what you have actually written.

4) Take a clever approach to addressing the problem. Use your literary license to come up with an idea that explains any apparent inconsistency. You might find that it helps your writing become even more interesting.

How do you stay consistent in your writing?

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