WRITING TECHNIQUES: CONTINUITY

by James Gault


Name of book:  
Best Intelligence by James Gault

The extract:
 
They reached the door of the first-choice apartment without seeing anyone. Simon had been right about the fifteen second lock. They were in with less bother than most people would have with a sticky key.
Inside the shutters were down and they paused a moment to let their eyes acclimatise to the darkness. 
“The window,” Simon whispered. They crept over to it. 
“We’ll lift the shutters just enough so I can get my shot in. The harder we make it for anyone to see inside here, the better.” 
Simon found a button and pressed it. The metal roll-top shutters started to unwind with an audible metallic groan. He switched it off when there was about six inches of daylight showing.
What was that? Both men stopped and listened. A sudden grunt had come from the direction of the bedroom. Charlie crept over to the closed door and listened. 
Nothing. They both waited. After a couple of minutes, the soft rumble of a snore could just be made out. Charlie’s mouth fell open and he frantically mimed someone sleeping.
Simon signaled to Charlie to go to the front door, and open it again slightly, quietly. Then he pressed the shutter button in reverse, rushed to the door, and they both got out quickly and shut it. Luck was with them. There was no one else in the corridor.
“The other flat,” Simon hissed. They crept down the corridor.
They got into it as easily as the first. But this time they were a lot more careful. Charlie stood ready by the door while Simon silently checked all the rooms. He gave the thumbs up sign. There was nobody else in this flat. Charlie sighed with relief but he was still pretty mad. 
“I’ll kill that bloody Alex, that last place was supposed to be empty.”
 
The explanation:
There are two aspects of continuity: consistency and coherence. Consistency is something that they worry about a lot in films. You’ve probably seen examples of it. During a single scene, in shot one the man is wearing a red tie and in the next it’s a blue one. Or the girl leaves her bag on the restaurant table but is seen carrying out as she steps out the door. The kind of thing that the audience notice and the whole effect and atmosphere is lost. These little slips of inconsistency are expensive to fix in film making, if not caught. The scene has to be set up again, actors recalled, lighting and cameras placed and matched to the original, several takes shot. Although less common in literature, the same kind of mistake can insinuate itself into a novel. It’s not so costly to change a few words in a book, but if you get it wrong the result is just as disastrous.

Coherence is more common in novels than consistency. It occurs when the reader loses the sense of place or time in the story. Action scenes are particularly prone to this, and can even slip though editing and into published books from well-respected authors. Action scenes are hard to do in literature; they work much better on film. Writers have to portray a clear and logical picture of what happens and at the same time imbue the passage with a sense of atmosphere and tension.

The excerpt is from an action scene in which two assassins are setting themselves up to shoot their victim from the window of what should have been an empty apartment. How do I make sure the action flows in a clear and understandable manner? The short answer is I picture myself filming the scene. I have to make sure that each ‘shot’ or incident links to the next. Each move the assassins make is explicitly depicted; nothing is missed out. They go from the door, to the window. They hear a noise, and one of them goes to the bedroom door. Then both of them move to the front door, exit the flat and enter another. At all times we know exactly where they are. If I was filming it, I would know exactly what to shoot and how the shots would link together.

The difficulty as a writer is that you know what happens, but in the desire to imbue the senses of tension, character and atmosphere, you miss out an important step in the action. You may not notice, but the reader will, and the resulting feeling of confusion will undo all your good work. 

About the author:

 James Gault, born in Scotland, has recently retired to SW France after spending ten years in the Czech Republic. There he enjoys the sunshine, writes novels, short stories and English Language textbooks.

He also produces the on-line literary magazine Vox Lit with monthly notes by writers for writers and readers, news, features (short stories, poems and extracts from novels.)

He has written four novels, all available on Amazon as e-books and paperbacks:

Teaching Tania (Young Tania tries to put the world to rights with the help of her English teacher – a comic detective story)

Ogg (Supernatural being tries to teach teenage Antonia how to think rationally as they try to save the world from destruction – comic philosophical thriller)

The Redemption of Anna Petrovna (Young woman in ex-communist country tries to build a career in a totally corrupt society – political psychological thriller.

Best Intelligence –  a detective thriller set in Scotland, France and Spain.

Current work in progress: the sequel to Best Intelligence and a satirical novella on the Trump-Putin relationship.

As well as ELT books and his novels, he has written short stories published in various reviews and magazines. In 2007, he won the writing prize from the British Czech and Slovak Society for his short story ‘Old Honza’s Day Out’.

In his time James has been an IT specialist, a businessman and a teacher as well as a writer, and has traveled extensively throughout Europe. He has worked with and taught English to students of many nationalities. He has an international outlook on life and his writing reflects both this and his other interests.

Apart from writing, his passions are politics, philosophy, film making, computer system development and his grandchildren.

Like what you’ve read? You can get a copy of Best Intelligence here:


       


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