Continuity (fiction)

In fiction, continuity is consistency of the characteristics of people, plot, objects, and places seen by the reader or viewer over some period of time. It is relevant to several media.

Continuity is particularly a concern in the production of film and television due to the difficulty of rectifying an error in continuity after shooting has wrapped up. It also applies to other art forms, including novels, comics, and video games, though usually on a smaller scale. It also applies to fiction used by persons, corporations, and governments in the public eye.

Most productions have a script supervisor on hand whose job is to pay attention to and attempt to maintain continuity across the chaotic and typically non-linear production shoot. This takes the form of a large amount of paperwork, photographs, and attention to and memory of large quantities of detail, some of which is sometimes assembled into the story bible for the production. It usually regards factors both within the scene and often even technical details including meticulous records of camera positioning and equipment settings. The use of a Polaroid camera was standard but has since been replaced by digital cameras. All of this is done so that, ideally, all related shots can match, despite perhaps parts being shot thousands of miles and several months apart. It is an inconspicuous job because if done perfectly, no one will ever notice.

In comic books, continuity has also come to mean a set of contiguous events, sometimes said to be "set in the same universe."

Continuity errors

Most continuity errors are subtle and minor, such as changes in the level of drink in a character's glass or the length of a cigarette, and can be permitted with relative indifference even to the final cut. Others can be more noticeable, such as sudden drastic changes in appearance of a character. Such errors in continuity can ruin the illusion of realism and affect suspension of disbelief.

In cinema, special attention must be paid to continuity because films are rarely shot in the order in which they are presented. The shooting schedule is often dictated by location permit issues. For example, a character may return to Times Square in New York City several times throughout a movie, but as it is extraordinarily expensive to close off Times Square, those scenes will likely be filmed all at once to reduce permit costs. Weather, the ambience of natural light, cast and crew availability, or any number of other circumstances can also influence a shooting schedule.

Measures against continuity errors in film

Film production companies use various techniques to prevent continuity errors. First would be to film all the shots for a particular scene together, and all shots of consecutive scenes together (if the scenes take place together, with no break between them in the film's timeline). This allows actors to remain in costume, in character, and in the same location (and with the same weather, if shooting on location).

The second major technique is for costume designers, production designers, prop masters, and make-up artists to take instant photographs of actors and sets at the beginning and end of each day's shooting (once made possible by Polaroid cameras, now done with digital cameras and cell phones as well). This allows the various workers to check each day's clothing, set, props, and make-up against a previous day's.

The third is to avoid shooting on location entirely, but instead film everything on a studio set. This allows weather and lighting to be controlled (as the shooting is indoors), and for all clothing and sets to be stored in one place to be hauled out the next day from a secure location.

Editing errors

Editing errors can occur when a character in a scene references a scene or incident that has not occurred yet, or of which they should not yet be aware.

An example of an editing error can be seen in the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), where a scene of people climbing a slope at the start is seen from below and then replayed from above.

Visual errors

Visual errors are instant discontinuities occurring in visual media such as film and television. Items of clothing change colors, shadows get longer or shorter, items within a scene change place or disappear, etc.

One of the earliest examples of a visual error appears in Charlie Chaplin's 1914 movie The Property Man. Here, in a supposedly smooth step from one room to another, the Tramp loses his hat in one room, but it is instantly back on his head as he enters the next room. Rather "loose" plots and a lack of continuity editing made most early films rife with such errors.

Another example occurs in the 1998 film Waking Ned, when two of the film's characters, Jackie and Michael, are walking through a storm towards Ned's house. The umbrella they are under is black during their conversation as they walk towards the house (filmed from slightly above and to the front), yet after cutting to a lower shot (filmed from behind Jackie), Michael walks onscreen from the right holding an umbrella that is not black but beige, with a brown band at the rim.

Yet another glaring example of poor continuity occurs in the Disney film Pete’s Dragon (filmed in 1976). During the song "Brazzle Dazzle Day" when Lampie (Mickey Rooney), Pete (Sean Marshall), and Nora (Helen Reddy) climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse, Pete's shirt beneath his overalls is orange. But after descending to the bottom again and coming out of the lighthouse door, his shirt is now grey.

Though visual continuity errors are logically confined to visual media, parallel mistakes can occur in text. In "The Miller's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, a door is ripped off its hinges only to be slowly closed again in the next scene.

Plot errors

A plot error, or a plot hole as it's commonly known, reflects a failure in the consistency of the created fictional world. A character might state he was an only child, yet later mention a sibling. In the TV show Cheers, Frasier Crane's wife Lilith mentions Frasier's parents are both dead. When the character was spun off into Frasier, his father became a central character with, in a case of retroactive continuity, the explanation that Frasier was embarrassed about his father's lowbrow attitudes and thus claimed his death. This is a frequent occurrence in sitcoms, where networks may agree to continue a show, but only if a certain character is emphasized, leading other minor characters to written out of the show with no further mention of the character's existence, while the emphasized character (usually a breakout character, as in the case of Frasier Crane) develops a more complete back story that ignores previous, more simplified back stories.

Homeric Nod

A Homeric nod (sometimes heard as 'Even Homer nods') is a continuity error. It has its origins in Homeric epic.

The proverbial phrase for it was coined by the Roman poet Horace in his Ars poetica:[1]

... et idem
indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus

... and yet I also become annoyed whenever the great Homer nods off.

There are numerous continuity errors in Homer that resemble "nods", as for example:

  • In Iliad,[2] Menelaos kills a minor character, Pylaimenes, in combat; who is later[3] still alive to witness the death of his son.
  • In Iliad 9.165-93 three characters, Phoinix, Odysseus, and Aias set out on an embassy to Achilleus; however, at line 182 the poet uses a verb in the dual form to indicate that there are only two people going; at lines 185ff. verbs in the plural form are used, indicating more than two; but another dual verb appears at line 192 ("the two of them came forward").

In modern Homeric scholarship many of Homer's "nods" are explicable as the consequences of the poem being retold and improvised by generations of oral poets. So in the second case cited above, it is likely that two different versions are being conflated: one version with an embassy of three people, another with just two people.

Alexander Pope was inclined to give Homeric nods the benefit of the doubt:

Those oft are Stratagems which Errors seem,
Nor is it Homer Nods, but We that Dream. - Essay on Criticism

Modern usage

In his online column, Best of The Web Today, James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal often used the phrase "Homer Nods" as the title of a retraction or correction.

Aging discrepancies

The practice of accelerating the age of a television character (usually a child or teenager) in conflict with the timeline of a series and/or the real-world progression of time is popularly known as Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, or SORAS.[4] Children unseen on screen for a time might reappear portrayed by an actor several years older than the original.[5] Usually coinciding with a recast, this rapid aging is typically done to open up the character to a wider range of storylines, and to attract younger viewers.[4] A recent example of this occurring is in the BBC's Merlin series, in which Mordred is initially played by a young child in Season 4, yet suddenly grows up into his late teens in time for the start of Season 5, with the rest of the characters aging by only three years.

The reverse can also happen. On Lost (TV Series), the character of 10-year-old Walt Lloyd was played by 12-year-old Malcolm David Kelley. The first few seasons took place over the course of just a few months, but by that point Lloyd looked much older than 10. In his remaining few appearances, special effects were used to make him look younger, or the scene took place years later.

Deliberate continuity errors

Sometimes a work of fiction may deliberately employ continuity errors, usually for comedy. For example, the Marx Brothers' classic film Duck Soup, at the climax of the film, the camera shows a shot of Groucho Marx speaking a line, followed by a shot of something else happening, followed by another shot of Groucho. Each time, Groucho's hat changes, usually to something more outrageous than before (a Napoleonic hat, a Prussian hat, etc.).

Dealing with errors

When continuity mistakes have been made, explanations are often proposed by either writers or fans to smooth over discrepancies. Fans sometimes make up explanations for such errors that may or may not be integrated into canon; this has come to be colloquially known as fanwanking (a term originally coined by the author Craig Hinton to describe excessive use of continuity).[6] Often when fans do not agree with one of the events in a story (such as the death of a favorite character), they will choose to ignore the event in question so that their enjoyment of the franchise is not diminished. When the holder of the intellectual property discards all existing continuity and starts from scratch it is known as rebooting. Fans call a less extreme literary technique that erases one episode the reset button. See also fanon.

Discrepancies in past continuity are sometimes made deliberately; this is known as retconning. Retcons are also sometimes used to either correct or cover up a perceived error. These changes may be made either by the same writer who made it, or more commonly by an author that has taken over the creative lead of a corporate owned show or publication. Not to be confused with the continuance of a reality (continuality).

Real time programs vs traditional films

Television programs like 24, in which actors have to appear as if it is the same day for 24 consecutive episodes, have raised public recognition of continuity. However, traditional films have frequently had much of the same sort of the issues to deal with; film shoots may last several months and as scenes are frequently shot out of story sequence, footage shot weeks apart may be edited together as part of the same day's action in the completed film. In some ways, 24 presents a simpler situation, as costumes and hairstyles generally should not change very frequently; in many feature films a range of different hairstyles and costumes must be created, changed, and then recreated exactly, as various scenes are shot.

References

  1. ^ Lines 358-359.
  2. ^ Book V Lines 576-579
  3. ^ Book XIII Lines 643-659
  4. ^ a b Clayton-Millar, Kim (April 24, 2006). "Soaps' rising stars". Tonight. Independent News & Media. Retrieved December 17, 2009.
  5. ^ Bird, S. Elizabeth (2003). The Audience in Everyday Life: Living in a Media World. New York: Routledge. p. 135. ISBN 0-415-94259-4. Retrieved December 12, 2009.
  6. ^ Parkin, Lance (2007). AHistory: An Unauthorized History of the Doctor Who universe (2nd ed.). Des Moines, Iowa: Mad Norwegian Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-9759446-6-0.

Further reading

Backstory

A backstory, background story, back-story, or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.

In acting, it is the history of the character before the drama begins, and is created during the actor's preparation.

It is the history of characters and other elements that underlie the situation existing at the main narrative's start. Even a purely historical work selectively reveals backstory to the audience.

Bible (screenwriting)

A bible (also known as a story bible, show bible, series bible, or pitch bible) is a reference document used by screenwriters for information on a television series' characters, settings, and other elements.

Canon (fiction)

In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction. The alternative terms mythology, timeline, universe and continuity are often used, with the first of these being used especially to refer to a richly detailed fictional canon requiring a large degree of suspension of disbelief (e.g. an entire imaginary world and history), while the latter two typically refer to a single arc where all events are directly connected chronologically. Other times, the word can mean "to be acknowledged by the creator(s)".

Comic book death

In the comic book fan community, the apparent death and subsequent return of a long-running character is often called a comic book death. A comic book death is generally not taken seriously by readers and is rarely permanent or meaningful other than for story or thematic purposes.

Elseworlds

Elseworlds was the publication imprint for American comic books produced by DC Comics for stories that took place outside the DC Universe canon. The Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel, featuring Batman, is considered to be the first official Elseworlds story. The "Elseworlds" name was trademarked in 1989, the same year as the first Elseworlds publication.

Expanded universe

The term expanded universe, sometimes called an extended universe, is generally used to denote the "extension" of a media franchise (like a television program or a series of feature films) with other media, generally comics and original novels. This typically involves new stories for existing characters already developed within the franchise, but in some cases entirely new characters and complex mythology are developed. This is not necessarily the same as an adaptation, which is a retelling of the same story that may or may not adhere to accepted canon. Nearly every media franchise with a committed fan base has some form of expanded universe.

Fictional universe

A fictional universe is a self-consistent setting with events, and often other elements, that differ from the real world. It may also be called an imagined, constructed or fictional realm (or world). Fictional universes may appear in novels, comics, films, television shows, video games, and other creative works.

A fictional universe can be almost indistinguishable from the real world, except for the presence of the invented characters and events that characterize a work of fiction; at the other extreme, it can bear little or no resemblance to the real world, with invented fundamental principles of time and space.

The subject is most commonly addressed in reference to fictional universes that differ markedly from the real world, such as those that introduce entire fictional cities, countries, or even planets, or those that contradict commonly known facts about the world and its history, or those that feature fantasy or science fiction concepts such as magic or faster than light travel—and especially those in which the deliberate development of the setting is a substantial focus of the work.

Floating timeline

A floating timeline (also known as a sliding timescale) is a device used in fiction, particularly in comics and animation, to explain why characters age little or not at all over a period of time – despite real-world markers like notable events, people and technology appearing in the works and correlating with the real world. A floating timeline is a subtle form of retroactive continuity. This is seen most clearly in the case of comic book characters who debuted as teens in the 1940s or the 1960s but who are still relatively young in current comics. Events from the characters' pasts are alluded to, but they are changed from having taken place years ago to having taken place more recently.

Han shot first

"Han shot first" refers to a controversial change made to a scene in the science fiction film Star Wars (1977), in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo (Paul Blake) in the Mos Eisley cantina. In the original version of the scene, Han shoots Greedo dead. Later versions are edited so that Greedo attempts to fire at Han first. Director George Lucas altered the scene to give Solo more justification for acting in self-defense. Many fans and commentators oppose the change, feeling it weakens Solo's character. The controversy is referenced in the 2018 film Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Hasbro Universe

The Hasbro Universe refers to several shared fictional universes featuring characters from several franchises owned by toy company Hasbro.

Hypertime

Hypertime is a fictional concept in DC Comics which first appeared in the 1999 The Kingdom limited series. It is a variation of the Multiverse concept that existed in DC Comics before Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Multiverse (Michael Moorcock)

The multiverse is a series of parallel universes in many of the science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories written by Michael Moorcock. (Many other fictional settings also have the concept of a multiverse.) Central to these works is the concept of an Eternal Champion who has potentially multiple identities across multiple dimensions. The multiverse contains a legion of different versions of Earth in various times, histories, and occasionally, sizes. One example is the world in which his Elric Saga takes place. The multiplicity of places in this collection of universes include London, Melniboné, Tanelorn, the Young Kingdoms, and the Realm of Dreams.

Origin story

In entertainment, an origin story is an account or back-story revealing how a character or group of people become a protagonist or antagonist, and it adds to the overall study of a narrative, often giving reasons for their intentions.

In American comic books, it also refers to how characters gained their superpowers and/or the circumstances under which they became superheroes or supervillains. In order to keep their characters current, comic book companies, as well as cartoon companies, game companies, children's show companies, and toy companies, frequently rewrite the origins of their oldest characters. This goes from adding details that do not contradict earlier facts to a totally new origin which makes it seem that it is an altogether different character.

A pourquoi story, also dubbed an "origin story", is also used in mythology, referring to narratives of how a world began, how creatures and plants came into existence, and why certain things in the cosmos have certain yet distinct qualities.

Reboot (fiction)

In serial fiction, a reboot is a new start to an established fictional universe, work, or series that discards all continuity to re-create its characters, plotlines and backstory from the beginning. It has been described as a way to "rebrand" or "restart an entertainment universe that has already been established". The term has been criticised for being a vague and "confusing" "buzzword", and a neologism for remake, a concept which has been losing popularity in the 2010s.

Retroactive continuity

Retroactive continuity, or retcon for short, is a literary device in which established facts in a fictional work are adjusted, ignored, or contradicted by a subsequently published work which breaks continuity with the former.There are various motivations for applying retroactive continuity, including:

To accommodate desired aspects of sequels or derivative works which would otherwise be ruled out;

To correct and overcome errors or problems identified in the prior work since its publication;

To change how the prior work should be interpreted;

To match reality, when assumptions or projections of the future are later proven wrong.Retcons are used by authors to increase their creative freedom, on the assumption that the changes are unimportant to the audience compared to the new story which can be told. For instance, by retroactively setting a prior story in a parallel universe, departed popular characters can be reintroduced. More subtly, a minor plot point might be retroactively expunged (for instance, the heroine leaving home without any food), removing an obstacle to further storytelling (that she should be getting hungry).

Retcons are common in pulp fiction, and especially in comic books published by long-established publishers such as DC and Marvel. The long history of popular titles and the number of writers who contribute stories can often create situations that demand clarification or revision. Retcons also often appear in manga, soap operas, serial dramas, movie sequels, cartoons, professional wrestling angles, video games, radio series, and other forms of serial fiction.

Sequel

A sequel is a literature, film, theatre, television, music or video game that continues the story of, or expands upon, some earlier work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as an earlier work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.In many cases, the sequel continues elements of the original story, often with the same characters and settings. A sequel can lead to a series, in which key elements appear repeatedly. Although the difference between more than one sequel and a series is somewhat arbitrary, it is clear that some media franchises have enough sequels to become a series, whether originally planned as such or not.Sequels are attractive to creators and to publishers because there is less risk involved in returning to a story with known popularity rather than developing new and untested characters and settings. Audiences are sometimes eager for more stories about popular characters or settings, making the production of sequels financially appealing.In movies, sequels are common. There are many name formats for sequels. Sometimes, they either have unrelated titles or have a letter added on the end. More commonly, they have numbers at the end or have an added word on the end. It is also common for a sequel to have a variation of the original title or have a subtitle. In the 1930s, many musical sequels had the year included in the title. Sometimes sequels are released with different titles in different countries, because of the perceived brand recognition. There are several ways that subsequent works can be related to the chronology of the original. Various neologisms have been coined to describe them.

Story arc

A story arc (also narrative arc) is an extended or continuing storyline in episodic storytelling media such as television, comic books, comic strips, boardgames, video games, and films with each episode following a dramatic arc. On a television program, for example, the story would unfold over many episodes. In television, the use of the story arc is much more common in comedies, especially in soap operas. In a traditional Hollywood film, the story arc usually follows a three-act format. Webcomics are more likely to use story arcs than newspaper comics, as most web comics have readable archives online that a newcomer to the strip can read in order to understand what is going on. Although story arcs have existed for decades, the term "story arc" was coined in 1988 in relation to the television series Wiseguy, and was quickly adapted for other uses.

Many American comic book series are now written in four or six-issue arcs, within a continuing series. Short story arcs are easier to package as trade paperbacks for resale, and more accessible to the casual reader than the never-ending continuity that once characterised US comics.

A corollary to the absence of continuity, however, is that, as exemplified in 1950s DC Superman comics, no permanent change to characters or situations occurs, meaning no growth can take place; thus storylines repeat over time in an endless loop.

Uberfic

Uberfic (short for uber fanfic, uberXena) or simply uber, über, or ueber (from German: über-, for 'over-' or 'supra-') is a genre of alternate universe fan fiction in which characters or events are portrayed somewhat closely to original canon but usually in a different time period, place, or reality, many times featuring the ancestors, descendants, or reincarnations of canon characters, known as uber-characters. The uber-characters' names are never canon. The term originated in Xena: Warrior Princess fandom, coined in 1997 by Kym Taborn, the webmaster of the fansite Whoosh.org. This sort of story was used by the series itself, beginning with the second season episode "The Xena Scrolls". A common trend in Xena fanfics was to write Uber stories in which the characters' analogues discover that they are soulmates.

Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The resulting world may be called a constructed world. Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or fantasy writers. Worldbuilding often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world. Constructed worlds can enrich the backstory and history of fictional works, and it is not uncommon for authors to revise their constructed worlds while completing its associated work. Constructed worlds can be created for personal amusement and mental exercise, or for specific creative endeavors such as novels, video games, or role-playing games.

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