04 August 2021

Down the Memory Hole

  Today I am feeling great sympathy for Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Stout.  You may feel that that is like a Little Leaguer saying he empathizes with the World Series winners, but hear me out.

Neither of those authors made a habit of rereading their old works before starting a new one.

As a result Doyle once had Dr. John Watson's wife refer to him as "James."  The good doctor also suffered from a "wandering wound" since his war injury was in his shoulder according to one tale, and in his leg in the other.

Rex Stout's great detective Nero Wolfe told the FBI he was born in the United States but in many other books claimed to be born in Montenegro.  And don't get me started on Wolfe's brilliant operative Saul Panzer, who managed to misplace his wife and kids between books...

That is why I am feeling sympathetic to them.  

I am currently editing the third story in a series, and preparing to write what I hope will be the fourth.  I wasn't sure of a few details so I reread the first story, and holy moly.  I had the last name of an important character wrong.  Another character was apparently so shocked by his adventures that he went bald between tales.  And a detail that my hero suddenly discovered in Story Three, oops, he had already learned in Story One. 

I suppose I should feel blessed if I can get enough stories published in a series and have enough readers to be caught out in inconsistencies.  Meanwhile, back to my notes...


  1. See, the bad guys Fu-Manchu style clouded the memory of your hero, yeah, that's what happened.

    I keep lists, bios, and spreadsheets. That might help the John/James problem, but not so much what you describe. Good for you catching the errors, Rob!

  2. I sympathize with you. It ain't easy keeping up with the details.

  3. Don't feel too bad- I have managed to change characters names within the same novel. It is an occupational hazard, I guess.

  4. Like Janice, I had a character change names mid-story...and no one noticed until after it was published. I did it in another story, too, but astute eyes noticed and it was corrected before publication.

  5. I have been called out for two mistakes in the past year. (Yes, readers do notice, and will let you know.) But thank God I catch most of them before somebody publishes them.

    In one of Stephen King's novels (the Tommyknockers, I think), the hero's revolver turns into an automatic in the next chapter. And I remember once when Robert B. Parker reverted to first-person for a line or two, in one of his third-person Jesse Stone novels. Oh well.

  6. After the second novel in what I didn't plan as a series, I went back and made a file of all the info I had given about the main characters. I wish I had made it more complete, though, because I've never decided a few details that should have been included. For example, in BOTH my series, we've met the female protagonist's parents and know about her siblings. If the male protags have parents, I'm not sure where they live (or if they're still alive). Woody Guthrie has an unnamed sister who was mentioned in the first book (or was it the fourth?).

    My favorite literary contradiction involves William Faulkner. In The Sound and the Fury, Quentin dies in June 1910, but in Absolom! Absolom!, he tells the story to his Harvard roommate in the following September. Hey, these things happen...

  7. I try to keep a spreadsheet of my characters - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. What bothers me is that I set up certain things with a couple of my regular narrators that I now wished I hadn't... I guess I could just ignore it and move right on. Why not?

  8. Wow, these comments are longer than my piece! I guess I struck a nerve. Thanks for all your examples, folks. I remember a review of a Mario Puzo novel pointing out that one character's eye color changed midway. Ed McBain's Matt Hope novels were in first person until he switched to third in the middle of one book and never went back. I don't remember any reviewers commenting on it...

  9. One Elmore Leonard novel used a name, and it appeared in a film so he had to change it. Or something like that; it was long enough ago that I don't remember details. Anyway, this was pre-computer, so Leonard couldn't do a global edit to make the change, and he missed two spots. The original name shows up twice in the book. The book MIGHT have been Cat Chaser, but don't take my word for it...

  10. Like Eve, I try to keep a spreadsheet of my various characters and their traits. It can get hairy quickly, and soon you're spending so much time on your "bible," that you're not even writing. Yet another excuse to not write on any given day: "Hey, I need to dive down the rabbit hole which is me serious bible, and hey, I need to update the rabbit hole which is my series bible..."

    Good luck on that new story, Rob!

  11. Henry Kuttner didn't keep copies of his stories and he had to call a character "Galloway Gallegher" after calling him "Galloway" in one story and "Gallegher" in another! (I've goofed-up like that too, but I'm no Henry Kuttner! Or no Rob Lopresti!)


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