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Writing for Television: Continuity Errors

Updated on September 15, 2011

Typographical errors can happen to any writer at any time when they're not checking their work with wide-awake eyes. Continuity errors, however, can be far worse. In some cases, the writer may have time to plan everything out to prevent this from happening, but some just don't have the time no matter what medium through which they tell their story. Deadlines are the cut-off points at which the finished products must be presented whether or not anyone has thoroughly checked them for mistakes. Television is perhaps the biggest perpetrator of this out of all forms of media.

Most television programs are not the work of one person. Any given show has a team of writers that collaborates on the bigger picture of a season or entire series. A team that works well together will have clear communication and planning meetings before churning out final scripts (which may still be subject to change as per the performance). Keeping in continuity is just as important as fact-checking references because they are in essence fact-checking themselves. Series creators will know the basics of their story and characters like the back of their hands, but smaller details provided by other writers may be a little trickier to keep track of. In some cases these mistakes can be overlooked or forgiven, but errors on a larger scale cannot be ignored. This is also true of people who write novelizations of visual media, especially ones meant for children; in those cases, however, the writer is normally accused of being out-of-touch at best or blatantly apathetic about the quality of their work and their audience at the worst.

Casual television watchers may not pay attention to the credits, and when they do they ironically do not care to know who wrote it (though those credit rolls move fast nowadays and are more often than not blocked out by something distracting like a network commercial or promo). However, the more hard-core fans are aware of who's writing what and the sort of story they can expect from them. These people can identify the specific writers responsible for episodes that are lacking in quality, even when the entire season seems to be a proverbial train wreck. Fans will be fans, but creators and writers must hold themselves accountable for the quality of their work and actually care about what they are doing (motivation to do so may be another issue entirely, but that is subject to a review of their working environment and/or employment situation).

In short, a professional writer should:

1) Check his/her work in time for the deadline

2) Collaborate with team members and think everything through together

3) Fact-check outside references as well as series canon

4) Ask questions if something seems unclear or amiss

5) Consider the audience's expectations (to a degree)

Additionally, a professional writer should not:

1) Be lazy

2) Have an uncaring or apathetic attitude toward his/her work and/or audience

3) Give up without a justifiable reason*

* justifiable reasons include such things as creative differences or a writers' strike


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