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In fiction, continuity (also called time-scheme) is consistency of the characteristics of persons, plot, objects, places and events seen by the reader or viewer. It is of relevance to several media.

Continuity is particularly a concern in the production of film and television due to the difficulty of rectifying an error in continuity after shooting has wrapped up. It also applies to other art forms, including novels, comics, anime, videogames and animation, though usually on a smaller scale.

Most productions have a script supervisor on hand whose job is to pay attention to and attempt to maintain continuity across the chaotic and typically non-linear production shoot. This takes the form of a large amount of paperwork, photographs, and attention to and memory of large quantities of detail, some of which is sometimes assembled into the story bible for the production. It usually regards factors both within the scene and often even technical details including meticulous records of camera positioning and equipment settings. The use of a Polaroid camera was standard but has since been replaced by the advent of digital cameras. All of this is done so that ideally all related shots can match, despite perhaps parts being shot thousands of miles and several months apart. It is a less conspicuous job, though, because if done perfectly, no one will ever notice.

In comic books, continuity has also come to mean a set of contiguous events, sometimes said to be "set in the same universe" (see fictional crossover and fictional universe) or "separate universes" (see intercompany crossover).

Today, maintaining strong plot and character continuity is also a high priority for many writers of long-running television series.

Continuity errors

While most continuity errors are subtle, such as changes in the level of drink in a character's glass or the length of a cigarette, others can be more noticeable, such as sudden drastic changes in appearance of a character, or the unexplained appearance of a character believed to be dead. Such errors in continuity can ruin the illusion of realism, and affect suspension of disbelief. In cinema, special attention must be paid to continuity because films are rarely shot in the order in which they are presented: that is, a crew may film a scene from the end of a movie first, followed by one from the middle, and so on. The shooting schedule is often dictated by location permit issues. A character may return to Times Square in New York Citymarker several times throughout a movie, but as it is extraordinarily expensive to close off Times Square, those scenes will likely be filmed all at once in order to reduce permit costs. Weather, the ambience of natural light, cast and crew availability, or any number of other circumstances can also influence a shooting schedule. There are three main types of continuity errors.

Editing errors

Editing errors can occur when a character in a scene references a scene or incident that has not occurred yet, or that they should not yet be aware of.

An example of an editing error can be seen in the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), where a scene of people climbing a slope at the start is seen from below and then replayed from above.

Visual errors

Visual errors are instant discontinuities occurring in visual media such as film and television. Items of clothing change colors, shadows get longer or shorter, items within a scene change place or disappear.

One example of a visual error occurs in the 1998 film Waking Ned, when two of the film's characters, Jackie and Michael, are walking through a storm towards Ned's house. The umbrella they are under is black during their conversation as they walk towards the house (filmed from slightly above and to the front); yet after cutting to a lower shot (filmed from behind Jackie), Michael walks onscreen from the right holding an umbrella that is not black but beige, with a brown band at the rim.

Though visual continuity errors are logically confined to visual media, parallel mistakes can occur in text. In "The Miller's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales a door is ripped off its hinges only to be slowly closed again in the next scene.

Plot errors

Plot errors reflect a failure in the consistency of the created fictional world. For example, a character might state he was an only child, yet later mention having a sister (or vice versa, in the case of sitcom Dan and Becs). In the TV show Cheers, the character Frasier Crane's wife Lilith mentions Frasier's parents are both dead, but when the character was spun off and given his own show (Frasier), his father became a central character (albeit with the explanation that Frasier was embarrassed about his father's lowbrow attitudes, and claimed his death as a result — see Retroactive continuity).

Aging discrepancies

On television, the failure of a character (most often a child or teenager) to age corresponding to the timeline of the show has led to a type of continuity error popularly known as Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome or "SORAS" and its opposite effect "De-SORAS". In these cases, a character's age development is in direct conflict with the natural progression of time on the show.

Dealing with errors

When continuity mistakes have been made, explanations are often proposed by either writers or fans to smooth over discrepancies. Fans sometimes make up explanations for such errors that may or may not be integrated into canon; this has come to be colloquially known as fanwanking. Often when a fan does not agree with one of the events in a story (such as the death of a favorite character) they will choose to ignore the event in question so that their enjoyment of the franchise is not diminished. When the holder of the intellectual property discards all existing continuity and starts from scratch it is known as rebooting. Fans call a less extreme literary technique that erases one episode the reset button.

Discrepancies in past continuity are sometimes made deliberately; this is known as retconning. Retcons are also sometimes used to either correct or cover up a perceived error. These changes may be made either by the same writer who made it, or more commonly by an author that has taken over the creative lead of a corporate owned show or publication. .Not to be confused with the continuance of a reality (continuality).

Real time programs vs traditional films

Television programs like 24, in which actors have to appear as if it is the same day for 24 consecutive episodes, have raised public recognition of continuity. However, traditional films have frequently had much of the same sort of the issues to deal with; film shoots may last several months and as scenes are frequently shot out of story sequence, footage shot weeks apart may be edited together as part of the same day's action in the completed film. In some ways, 24 presents a simpler situation, as costumes and hairstyles generally should not change very frequently; in many feature films a range of different hairstyles and costumes must be created, changed, and then recreated exactly, as various scenes are shot.


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