Before we go any further, we need to understand what consistency means. Webster defines it as “agreement or harmony of parts or features to one another or a whole”. To a writer, this means the character’s thoughts and actions have to be in “agreement or harmony” with each other.
Think about a TV show you like. For me, I’ll use The Big Bang Theory as an example here. Most people are familiar with the show. Viewers would not like seeing the character, Sheldon, acting sympathetic and putting others first and of course being humble. It wouldn’t be consistent with his character’s personality. Viewers won’t like that. The same can be said for any literary character.
Characters have to be consistent throughout a story and/or series. Now that doesn’t mean they can’t develop. In fact, they should.
Consistent and Developing Can Co-Exist
Consistency doesn’t mean that a character has to be flat. They should develop as the story goes. Consistency means growth. They can be consistent and develop at the same time.
Let’s use Sheldon again as an example. If you’ve watched the show from the beginning, you can see how he has developed yet remained consistent. He is still very self-centered, but he is now willing to admit he cares for his friends. He is developing as a person while not being a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
See how consistency and development can co-exist?
Tips for Consistency
Though you might understand it better, that doesn’t mean you know exactly how to accomplish keeping your characters consistent. It isn’t something that just occurs to you. You have to put time and energy into it. Here are few tips to help you.
Know Your Character
Get to know your character. In your mind, they are real. This is why writers are crazy. They have real imaginary friends running around in their minds. Since they are with you all the time, you can get to know them real well. What are their likes and dislikes? What is their past? What are their secrets? When you know your character inside and out, you will have less chance for consistency issues.
Keep notes about your characters. Some writers keep a journal with their characters in it and all the details on their personality and life. I like to keep a list of characters at the bottom of my work in progress with notes beside them of things I know I’ll forget as I get into the story. Maybe it is a particular trait, quirk, or even appearance. Whatever helps you keep your characters on track, do it.
I can never stress enough how important it is to have someone else look over your work and give you feedback. They can see things you can’t because they aren’t personally involved and have not been the creator of it. They walk in without any preconceived ideas. Let trusted friends help you out.