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Consistency is Survival by Michelle Levigne

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If you haven't picked this up by now, I make my living as a freelance editor. That means publishers send me chapters or entire books that they are going to publish, and my job is to proofread, to make sure the books fit the publisher's guidelines and standards, to fix the mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation, POV, verb tense) and ask questions when there are holes in the story.

One of my big pet peeves, maybe the biggest one, is CONSISTENCY.

Character names: I edited a YA book where, on the first page, one character was referred to as Mom, Mummy, Mother, Timmy's mother, Mrs. Wilson, Grace Wilson ... see where I'm going? If the reader isn't paying attention, she'll think there are FIVE different characters on the page with Timmy. Uh, wouldn't that be confusing to you? I'm not saying that other characters in the story can't refer to that person by different names -- that reflects their relationship with the character. Timmy sure wouldn't call his mother "Mrs. Wilson" or "Grace," but wouldn't he refer to her by one name? He wouldn't switch back and forth between "Mom," "Mummy," and "Mother," would he? You, as narrator, should refer to the character by the same name, so readers know all the time who you're referring to. And stay consistent through the whole book. I edited another book where a character was referred to as Dr. Smithers for the first three-quarters of the book -- then all of a sudden the narrator started talking about Andrew. Who was Andrew? When did he enter the story? It took three pages of wondering before another character referred to Andrew as Dr. Andrew Smithers, when it finally clicked.

DON'T CONFUSE YOUR READERS!

Another consistency issue I face a lot deals with mechanics, and especially editing books by Christian authors. In one paragraph, they reference a Bible verse as 2 Corinthians 6:12 -- a paragraph later they write the reference as II Peter 1:5 -- then a paragraph later the references is the book of Daniel, second chapter, verse twelve. Or the author puts the Bible verse in italics and indents from both sides with the reference after the verse one-third of the time, and then the rest of the time leaves off the italics or the indents or both, and sometimes puts the reference before the verse.

See the inconsistencies there? Decide on the format you're going to use for referencing things like Bible verses, or books and authors you're quoting from, and STICK WITH IT. Say you quote from an author, and directly after the quote you insert a footnote with the bibliography information in it. Fine. The next time you quote someone, don't put that bibliography info in parentheses. BE CONSISTENT. Either all footnotes, or all parentheses.

Another issue: Capitalizing pronouns for God. I prefer to capitalize, as a measure of respect. He, Him, His, etc. Too many times when I'm editing someone, they start out lowercasing the pronouns for God, then one chapter is capitalized, then they go back to lowercase. Usually when that happens I stick with the formatting the book started out with. But what do I do when the author starts out with both capitalization and lowercasing in the same paragraph -- or even the same sentence? Usually when that happens, I tell the author: Be consistent. I can't decide what the majority is, so YOU have to decide and make the corrections. I can just imagine they don't like that.

When you're being published by a traditional publisher, there are standards you have to follow. Some publishers don't like sentences that start with conjunctions, or a publisher will insist that all pronouns referencing God be capitalized, and another refuses to allow that, and another publisher wants 1 and 2 in front of Peter, Corinthians, Thessalonians, etc., while another insists on I and II. That's fine -- you follow the rules, and if you don't want to follow the rules, get another publisher.

But in self-publishing ... YOU are the publisher. You establish the standards. Once the mechanics are taken care of, it's all up to you. But PLEASE be CONSISTENT. As someone once said, "It's all right if you're wrong, as long as you're consistently wrong." In fact, I think people are less likely to notice the silly mistakes if you don't keep switching back and forth.

Make sense?

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