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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Checking For Consistency When You Are Done (Consistency Post 2)

At the end of May, I wrote a post introducing a series on consistency. As an editor, I’ve realized that consistency is one of the elements that makes a piece of writing successful. If you aren’t consistent. no matter what you write, readers can be taken out of your story, post, novel, or article before they even get to enjoy the content.

I asked if anyone had consistency questions, and one of my fellow bloggers, Sioux Roslawski, asked me: How do you check for consistency when you’re dealing with a long piece like a manuscript? Do you print out a physical copy and start highlighting details in different colors? Do you do a readthrough and use post-its?

This is a great question and a perfect one to start with. Many of us write a first draft and realize when we get to the end that there’s still so much work to do! Sometimes, there’s more work to do than before we wrote this 75,000-word manuscript. The strategies that Sioux mentioned in her question are ones you can use to check for consistency. But even using different color highlighters can become confusing if you are reading a 300-page document. So my advice is to tackle consistency before you type "the end" for the first time.

Here are some strategies to try:

1. Keep a manuscript bible. Fantasy and science-fiction writers will often keep what they call a series bible. This is a separate document in Word or sometimes a physical notebook. This is where writers keep track of their worldbuilding rules and regulations, setting details, character descriptions, and everything that makes their fiction world run.

You don’t have to write one of these genres in order to keep a bible. To stay consistent with your characters, setting, timeline, or anything else you need to keep track of in your story, keep a story or series bible. There are several software programs that can help you do this, such as Scrivener, Microsoft OneNote, or even the Notes app on your smartphones. Some people like to use a plain old notebook like what they bought when they started elementary school each year. It doesn’t matter what format you keep your bible in, but keep track of details, so that when you write your character dyed her hair red in chapter three, you can remember that fact in chapter ten.

2. Pick a style. Whether you are traditionally or indie published, you need to be consistent with your grammar and punctuation rules. Let’s take for example the Oxford comma. In Chicago Manual of Style, the Oxford comma is present. In AP style, there is no Oxford comma. This may seem like a small detail. But there are a lot of rules to grammar, and these "small" rules add up.

  • Does the punctuation go inside the quotation marks or outside the quotation marks? 
  • Should I capitalize this noun or should I not? 
  • How do I write numerals up to 100?
These rules exist to help writers be consistent when they write. If you follow these rules, and you are consistent, then your reader will not be taken out of the story. Pick a style. It’s fine if the publishing house you choose to query uses AP style when you are using MLA style. The important thing is that the editor knows you worked hard to be consistent, and there will be minimal edits to get this manuscript in tiptop shape. Don’t decide halfway through what style to follow or switch it up to another style. Be consistent from the beginning and stick with it.

3. Find a beta reader. When we finish the manuscript, almost every single one of us knows that there’s probably something in the story where we were not consistent. It can be as simple as a character sat down and then stood up twice or eye color changed. You definitely need to set the manuscript aside for a length of time, so that your mind can clear, and you can read it with fresh eyes. When you read the manuscript with fresh eyes, try to do it in a short amount of time--taking no longer than a week if possible. Take notes on any plot point, blocking, character element, or anything else in the story that causes you to worry you weren't consistent. Then find a beta reader. This does not have to be another writer, just someone who likes to read and will look for the points you are concerned about.

If you are looking for consistency in a manuscript, the best way is to do as much as you can while you are writing. Then when you are done, after some time, read through your manuscript as quickly as possible and make notes for someone else to check, too.

Stay tuned for MORE consistency posts coming in June!

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and writing coach and instructor, living in St. Louis, MO, with her nine-year-old daughter and her one-year-old lab mix dog, Sudsi. To take Margo's next novel writing course, go here and sign up before June 5! She will help you be consistent when writing your novel or memoir.


  1. Margo--I like the idea of a manuscript bible. Obviously, this would be easier if it was created while the first draft is being written.

    I am going to take your idea and apply it to my WIP. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Sioux: YAY! I'm glad to hear it. :)

  3. I'm hoping the manuscript Bible will work better with draft 2. Between outlining, reoutlining and getting half way through draft 2, a lot has changed.


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