Today I’ll be wrapping up this series of posts on creating stories for storyworlds with a few notes on consistency. (And I’ll not even mention hobgoblins, except to point out that “Consistency Hobgoblin” would make a great band name.)
It almost goes without saying that any stories developed from a storyworld should be consistent with what’s been established for that storyworld. If we’ve established that the lizard-headed politicians eat babies, they should be baby-eaters in your story. If the special crimes unit is known to be feuding with the mayor’s office, it should be awkward when they’re all forced to join the same intramural basketball team. If you’ve told us the the Force is a “energy field created by all living things,” you should think twice about making it the byproduct of microbes in your next story.
Most of this is continuity. Once you’ve established the mechanics of a storyworld element — what it is, how it works, how it smells, its relationship to other elements — those things should remain consistent across all stories from that storyworld. You might think it doesn’t matter, but in this age of wikis, messages boards, and the tightly woven network of people who love your stuff enough to meticulously pick every nit, it matters a lot.
Beyond continuity (which I’ll admit is pretty obvious), stories from the same storyworld should have a consistent genre, tone, and theme.
Consistent genre means that if you’ve established your storyworld as one of science fiction, your story shouldn’t feature unicorns and elves. And if it’s based on the real world (but with more serial killers and grizzled FBI profilers), you’d best avoid vampires, witchcraft, or elves. Know the genre of the storyworld, and don’t include elements from other genres — especially elves.
Consistent tone is a bit trickier, as tone is harder to pin down than genre. (“It’s horror, yes, but it’s slapstick horror: bloody, but funny-bloody, not dark-bloody.”) Once you can define your storyworld’s tone, make sure your stories match it or you audience will be confused and possibly irate.
Consistent theme requires you to identify your storyworld’s themes — which can be tough, since themes sometimes stay hidden until they’re drawn out through the creation of the stories themselves. (And forcing a theme from the beginning can come off heavy-handed and, well, forced.) It’s okay to let the themes develop organically, but as they do, roll them back into the storyworld so the stories that come after remain consistent.
Consistency can be a challenge. But it’s a lot easier if it’s something you plan for from the creation of the storyworld itself.