For the use of the word continuity in mathematics, see continuous function.

In fiction, continuity is consistency of the characteristics of persons, objects, places and events seen by the reader or viewer. The term is taken from the mathematical sense of something being smooth and without break. In some forms of media, such as comic books, continuity has also come to mean a set of contiguous events, sometimes said to be "set in the same universe".

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 completed, although it also applies to other art forms, including novels, comics and animation, though usually on a much broader scale. Most productions have a script supervisor (formerly "script girl") on hand whose job is solely 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. It usually regards factors both within the scene and often even technical details including meticulous records of camera positioning and equipment settings. 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.


Continuity errors

Many 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 changes in the clothing of a character. Such errors in continuity break the illusion of watching actual events. Care towards continuity must be taken because films are rarely filmed in the order they are presented in: 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 City 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 two main types of continuity errors.

Editing Errors

What became known as the now popular 'Hollywood' style of editing was developed by early European and American directors, in particular D.W. Griffith in his films such as The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. The classical style ensures temporal and spatial continuity from scene to scene. This style has remained the most popular and effective method of editing films since it's creation as it ensures a clear order and understanding of the film. 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. These errors only occur 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 Devine, when two of the films characters, Jackie and Michael, are walking through a storm towards Ned's house. The umbrella they are under is black during their conversation on the walk towards the house (filmed from slightly above and to the front); yet after cutting to a lower shot from behind Jackie approaching the house, Michael walks onscreen from the right holding an umbrella that is not black but beige, with a brown band at the rim.

In the final scene of episode 1 of the 2004 television series, Lost, a woman sees the pilot's wings badge at the edge of a puddle on the track. The camera takes her eye's point of view as she crouches to look at it; she sees as the audience does, reflected in the water of the puddle, the body of the pilot caught high in a tree - which must be ahead of her. However, she rises and turns to look at this behind her.

Such errors occur as early as Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, where in "The Miller's Tale" a door is ripped off its hinges only to be slowly closed again in the next scene.

Plot errors

Plot errors can occur in any media from film and television, to novels and radio dramas. They 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. An example of this was the character of Sondra Huxtable on The Cosby Show, who was not mentioned when the show first began (Cliff Huxtable said they had 4 children instead of 5), but who suddenly appeared at Thanksgiving dinner during season 1. Or, conversly, a character might have a brother on a television series, but that brother eventually disappears and is never mentioned again. This happened most famously on Happy Days when Chuck Cunningham (brother of Richie and Joanie) disappeared after the 2nd season of the series. This has become known as "Chuck Cunningham syndrome". For dramatic purposes, sometimes a character on a show may have a friend who appears solely to illustrate a controversial issue to the audience. This plot device occurs often in what critics and television viewers alike have termed as very special episodes.

Continuity can become very complicated in fictional worlds that are vastly different from our reality, such as those found in science fiction or fantasy. Many universes, such as those in Star Wars or Star Trek, may be so well-known and detailed that it is difficult to create new stories that fit in the established timeline. Discrepancies in past continuity are sometimes made deliberately; this is known as retconning.


Frequently, film shoots will have one person dedicated exclusively to minding continuity. This continuity person will take detailed notes of timelines, placement of objects within scenes, wardrobes, and biographical references. The use of a Polaroid camera was standard but has since been replaced by the advent of digital cameras. The need for these has increased even more in recent years with television programs like 24, in which actors have to appear as if it is the same day for 24 consecutive episodes. Notable instances of having to conserve continuity including scarring on the hands of the fictional president after a biological attack on his life.

When continuity mistakes have already been made often explanations are proposed to smooth over discrepancies.

Other times the error is resolved by denying the existence of one of the offending tales. Deciding which stories officially make up a universe results in a canon. Discarding all existing continuity and starting from scratch is known as rebooting. A less extreme literary technique that erases one episode is called the reset button. Often when a fan does not agree with one of the events in a story (such as the death of a favorite character), he or she decides to simply ignore that the effect ever happened. This is known as Krypto-revisionism.

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