When I’m reading a manuscript, sometimes furniture moves around. Or changes style. A tree changes sizes miraculously with no relevance to the story. A character has blond hair one second and then jet black the next. Sometimes, I don’t know what anything looks like at all.
I want to talk about environment. Writers often have a scene or two in their book (sometimes more) where the environment changes in the middle of a scene.
That chair you told me was in the back corner is now in the middle of the room.
Something like this may be small, but for the reader, it can change the landscape or make them stumble. There are times when I have to go back and find the first “chair” description to make sure I’m not crazy. That’s time away from your story.
Or a tree, especially if it’s a focal point, will be huge one second and tiny the next.
Make sure that you’ve read through and taken into account the landscape. A lot of writers have read their work so many times that they don’t even see it anymore. I’ve heard some good tricks for this.
- Leave the manuscript alone for a while then come back to it.
- Draw a picture of the environment
- Read it aloud, or better yet, have a friend do this. Sometimes hearing it in a fresh way makes it easier to spot these kind of errors.
- Find an awesome beta reader that can catch problems like this
Even though moving landscape features is very entertaining for me, I know I’m terrible… it does take from the story especially when it comes to crucial elements or significant features.
Another thing I would like to say about environment is the fact that it has an environment. I love when authors give me a visceral, full blown sensory experience in their universe. It is strange though when the morning is suddenly midnight or the seasons have change on a dime without a reason for it.
The last example that I want to talk about is character.
I know that every writer has a different approach when composing a story. But sometimes, the way a character looks changes dramatically mid book. And I don’t mean when it’s relevant like a spy on the run or a magical transformation.
Character development is pretty crucial and the way they look changing because you changed your mind, also pulls a reader out of the story for a second. Make sure, if you change your mind, that you go through the book to make sure that those descriptors aren’t there anymore or changed.
Some things that I have heard of authors doing and I do a couple of these things myself when it comes to characters:
- Print out pictures of your cast of characters and stick them on the wall of your work station. This will keep your descriptions consistent because you will have a frame of reference you keep going back to.
- Figure out celebrities that have the right look and feel for your characters and make note of that (or use method #1&2 together)
- Write down “character” cards. Really flesh out those characters and make them real to you before you even put them on the page. Write their history, interests, dislikes, beliefs, psychology, etc. If you make the person a whole person before you write them, chances are you won’t change what they look like.
Even with really amazing descriptions and very beautiful writing, having these micro holes in the world you’re building can have a huge impact on the reader’s experience. And your ability to suck them in will get diminished if your manuscript is riddled with errors like this.