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… et idem
indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus

And yet I also become annoyed whenever the great Homer nods off. – Horace 23BCE

I posted this on the Supernatrual Underground the other day but didn’t mention the tie in with Mercury Rx. Of course we ‘nod’ more often then! How’s everyone going? Any conundrums?

The ‘Homeric Nod’, or continuity as we now call it, has been a problem for thousands of years. Some deliberate, most accidental, continuity is an age old challenge for storytellers everywhere.

I have a friend who teaches the ins and outs of continuity (known also as script direction). She’s brilliant, and no small fry, having been the ‘scripty’ on films as fabulous as The Matrix series, The Lord of the Rings (all three) and soon to be released, The Hobbit. I did tech support for a class she gave last week and I found film continuity not all that different from the issues a novelist faces. A lot of the techniques for catching these errors in film translate well for authors, and it does make a huge difference, having the continuity water tight.


Because unless it’s a comedy, seeing or reading an anachronism, inconsistency or error will jolt the reader/viewer out of the participation mystique of the story. Suddenly they are no longer ‘with’ the characters but back in the audience, scratching their heads because a jet just flew over ancient Troy. Oh boy. That’s almost as bad as Edward saying that Carlisle, in 1660, “actually found a coven of true vampires that lived hidden in the sewers of the city . . .” when said sewage system wouldn’t be built for another two hundred years. If the reader knows their history, it’s going to snap them out of ‘it’, and that’s definitely not the goal.

As we can see, big name authors with major publishing houses are not exempt from these problems. Did anyone catch in Chamber of Secrets where Dumbledore tells Harry that Lord Voldemort is the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin. Sure JKR meant descendant but why didn’t the editorial process, and the author, pick that up? (It’s been corrected in later print runs, something film editors can’t do!) Readers are very good at spotting such things and a lot of subsequent print run corrections are due to them writing in. Don’t be shy. Your authors appreciate it!

Usually novelists have more control over continuity than script directors on a film set.  What writer, for example, would have gorgeous Captain Jack Sparrow about to say something mouth-watering-witty with the ticky-tag on his bandanna showing? Novelists aren’t dependent on air traffic, sound artists, make up or wardrobe to get it right. But we do end up being all of the above and more when it comes to the final product – a book in the reader’s hands. When the  ‘poor continuity’ hammer falls; it falls squarely on the author’s head. It’s not like we haven’t had a chance to make corrections.

 Publishing houses may differ slightly but the editorial process looks something like this:

1) Author hands in manuscript

2) Editor makes general comments

3) Author applies suggestions

4) Editor rereads and may return with more suggestions or send on to the structural editor

5) Structural editor edits the entire ms for form, structure, consistency, meaning,  grammar, spelling, context, you name it

6) Ms returns to author to approve or reject suggested changes or rewrite scenes

7) Ms goes to copy editor who edits for grammar and spelling mostly but also consistency, meaning and clarity.

8) Ms returns to author to put in changes/rework

9) Ms goes to proofreaders where one to six proofreaders mark errors and make comments. All the comments from various proofreaders are then transcribed onto one manuscript which the publishing editor reviews. At HarperCollins Aus, this would then result in a phone call (sometimes lasting hours) where the question marks and quirks and ‘ifs’ are discussed with the author. The editor puts in agreed changes.

10) The ms then goes to typesetting and the resulting ‘fourth pages’ are sent to the author to proof.

11) The author catches any errors and shoots the ms back to the publisher (This process is repeated with third, and second pages until they are down to the first pages complete with the dedication, acknowledgements and copyright info.)

12) The author checks those first pages and returns to editor (the turn around time become increasingly shorter with each of these steps)

13) Ms is off to print. Yay!

It’s not a haphazard process, yet still mistakes appear. My friend the script director says that in film, it’s often down to the editing process where they have better shot, even with an inconsistency. They’ll take acting over continuity every time.

How about you, readers? Have you ever loved a book but wanted to throw it across the room because of the mistakes or typos? I bet this writer (below) wishes he’d had a copy editor on board! O. M. G #14!