Clearing the Path (Hurdles Part 7)
December 3, 2010
Three weeks ago I began what I assumed would be a quick read of my revised manuscript for any little typos I might have missed. Lo and behold, to my dismay, I stubbed my toes on
anachronisms, discontinuities, and plot holes that had to be cleared up before I could hand over my soul, er, my book to my Beta readers.
As you know, an anachronism is a person, place, event, object, or custom that is chronologically out of place. Continuity is the consistency of the story elements over the course of the story, and plot holes are events that don’t add up, e.g. they depend on circular reasoning.
Some authors deliberately use an anachronism to further the plot of their stories. For example, in the book and movie, Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson, the protagonist goes back in time. (Spoiler Alert: skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to know the ending!)
The story hinges on the protagonist’s ability to believe he’s traveled from 1980 to 1912. When he finds the anachronism of a 1980 penny in his 1912 pocket, he is thrust forward in time and loses the woman he loves.
Although I personally didn’t pick out any inadvertent anachronisms while reading or watching Somewhere in Time, others noticed the U.S. flag flying from the top of the hotel in 1912 had 50 stars, which it didn’t have until 1950, and the song the protagonist was humming in 1912 wasn’t written until 1934. The origin of the watch, which mysteriously appeared later and then earlier, could be categorized a plot hole. Yet the story worked for most people.
Why is an inadvertent anachronism, a discontinuity, or a plot hole so bad? Because it can jars readers, pulling them out of the story and reducing their trust in the author or film maker. The more I read, the more convinced I am that one of my jobs as a writer is to clear the path of such stumbling stones so the reader can enjoy the story without interruption.
During the overhaul of my plot, I moved things around to accommodate new events, and some things got out of sequence. Although I tried to follow each thread to make sure events happened sequentially, anachronisms are hard to ferret out because they can’t be located using a word search function. All this to say that it took me two weeks longer than planned to finish the final revision. As of this writing, I have given the Beta version of the novel to three non-family readers and plan to mail it to the fourth one tomorrow. Thanks in advance to Steve, Carolyn, Diane, and Marc!
P.S. In case you’re wondering about the books shown, which I gathered from various shelves and stacked in order of size so they wouldn’t fall over, here’s a list.
The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book, by Susan Page
How to Write Short Stories, by Sharon Sorenson
The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman
The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White (1959)
A Writer’s Diary, by Virginia Wolff
The Soul Tells a Story, by Vinita Hampton Wright
First Draft in 30 Days, by Karen Wiesner
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, by L. Rust Hills
Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might, by Pat Walsh
Writing as a Process of Discovery, by Edward B. Jenkinson
The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White (2000)
One Way to Write Short Stories, by Ben Nyberg
Write Faster, Write Better, by David A. Fryxell
20 Master Plots: and How to Build Them, by Ronald Tobias
The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, by Evan Marshall
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, by Jack Bickham
Flogging the Quill, by Ray Rhamey
P.P.S. I learned something from every one of these books and still refer to them whenever I get stuck, which happens more often than I’d like to admit.