I remember very distinctly editing one of my very early manuscripts, only the second or third one I'd ever written. I sent the main character off in one scene, and this was a fantasy book so she was really gone and unreachable at that point. Then I noticed that I had her sitting with someone else just a few scenes later, because I had messed it up. Continuity is so important, you have to edit your book just for that at least once -- and stop getting bogged down in the minutia of looking for out-of-place commas.
For Every Action...
Continuity is one of the most important elements of any book, and too often I see it ignored. There are many ways in which you can screw up continuity, and I know because I've made most of these mistakes myself:
- Injury: Authors injure their main characters all the time. We've all been hurt and had accidents, so we can identify. It's also a good way to make the character vulnerable. Drawing sympathy can make a character seem more likable. But if you injure your character in a scene, that character has to stay injured. If it's a break, they'll be injured for weeks. Sprains heal quicker. Look up the injuries you're giving them, know what that's all about, and make sure your time line is correct. Don't give someone a broken foot and have them dancing in a ballroom the very next weekend.
- Pregnancy: People get pregnant, and so do characters in books. Please remember that they're pregnant. I've read books where a character got pregnant, carried on totally normally for 7 chapters and suddenly an infant appears. Yeah, like I'm going to believe that. I want symptoms, I want big bellies, I want to see that character curtail their normal activities and start eating all the time because that's what happens.
- Hatred: If two characters have a falling out on page 56, I'm going to be terribly confused if they suddenly have a pleasant conversation on page 61. Make sure you keep track of relationships and feelings. If one character does something awful to another, I expect there to be some animosity. Relationships are fluid, and they change. Your story must reflect those changes.
- Appearance: People change their appearance all the time, or something happens and life changes it for them. If your character cuts her hair, receives a deep wound that leaves a scar or loses a bunch of weight you've got to continue to reflect and address these changes through the story. If I know she's cut off all her hair and 20 pages later she's wearing a ponytail, I'm confused.
I get tangled up in logistics like the above all the time...so that means you have to edit all your stories very carefully for nit-pickers like me. Make sure your stories have continuity. Keep track of your own changes, because your readers certainly will.