As a comic book fan, I’m no stranger to continuity errors. It’s something that’s inevitable when a product is made by numerous people, writers and artists alike, over a period of decades. I accept that. But what really bugs me are continuity errors in books. I’m not talking about plot holes or the like, as those can always be explained away if you’re creative enough. No, I mean “wow, that totally contradicts what you just said” type of errors. Now, people are under the misconception that a book series is always written by one author. More often than not, however, that isn’t the case. Even going back to The Hardy Boys, most long-running book series are ghostwritten. And in such cases, book-to-book continuity errors can be excusable, if they were written by different authors.
In elementary school, Animorphs was one of my favorite book series. I simply couldn’t get enough of it. I even had the videogames. Even at that young age, I noticed continuity errors within the world of the books. It’s no secret that about half of the Animorphs book series was written by various different ghostwriters. However the first twenty-something were written by K.A. Applegate. She introduced a concept in the first book called “thought-speak,” however violated and rewrote the rules several times during the first few books. The last fifty or so books were consistent with one another, but you get the impression reading the first few books that they’re earlier drafts, as though the author herself wasn’t entirely sure of all the concepts yet, or how they worked. From what I heard though, when they rereleased the first few books a few years back, they fixed the continuity errors. So at least they acknowledged their mistake.
It’s one thing to have inconsistencies from book to book, because at least then, if you read only a single book, it will still make sense. The gravest of continuity errors is when same book contradicts itself later on. Years ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I read Pendragon Book One: The Merchant of Death. It was not a very good book. What bugged me the most, however, was when the book contradicted its own rules. At one point in the book, Bobby, the main character, travels to another dimension. The people in that dimension speak a language he cannot understand. While there, he meets “travelers” from yet another dimension, who explain to him that at the moment his brain can only comprehend the language of other travelers, but it will take time for the magic to fully take affect and allow him to understand the natural inhabitants. Later on in the book he confronts the villain, another traveler, who reveals that he was disguised as a natural inhabitant the whole time. Which would be fine, if Bobby hadn’t tried talking to the man earlier in the book and couldn’t understand him, while the other travelers he was with were able to. This wouldn’t be hard to explain away, of course, if the author explained that the villain had killed the original person after Bobby had met him and was impersonated him (he had shapeshifting powers). But now, the villain explicitly said that the original person who he was impersonating had died years ago. If that was the case, Bobby should have understood him right away, as he was a traveler, but he didn’t. (Like the continuity error in Animorphs, this was apparently also fixed later, in the graphic novel adaptation.) Now, perhaps this is a nitpick. Continuity errors often are. But they always take me out of the story. If you’re going to publish a book, please have someone read it over specifically looking for continuity errors. It’s embarrassing.
Let me know of any book continuity errors you’ve noticed in the comments below. How much did it bother you?