Question: Hi, Arline. It's Marsha your old WD student. I got a manuscript back this week with a note from an editor that it had "continuity problems" and needed a rewrite. Can you help me understand what that is?
Answer: Hi Marsha. Usually that means that things happen out of sequence. Someone goes upstairs when he's already upstairs. Someone leaves for London and arrives in Glasgow. These are exaggerated examples of course, but even small things can put readers off.
A lot of this is plain common sense. I can't tell you how many manuscripts I see as a publisher where scenes open with conversation between two people who are barely identified, and we don't know where they are or even if it's a modern story or historical Who where and when should be in every transition, remember?
Worse, many times a third person will say something, then following the speech, will be the words, "Danny Martin joined them on the post office steps." It's plain disorienting for Danny to speak, before he joins them. Sort of like someone sneaking up behind you and poking you in the back when you're not looking. And it's even worse if the first two people have been talking for half a page before we find out they're at the post office. Especially if we've made assumptions from the subject matter and already built them a street corner, or a grocery store parking lot to have their talk in our imagination.
Yes, I know we've been taught to "start with dialog and get the reader involved right away." But for me, keeping the reader grounded in time and space is the bones the story is built on.