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Panel Discussion: Worldbuilding. Part 2.

Part 1 of this discussion can be found HERE.

Having discussed how worldbuilding was carried out in their source material, the panel then turned its collective gaze towards internal consistency. Or, as it has been described, infernal consistency, which might be an appropriate title for a treatise on Devils.

Still, I am sure none of the panellists are devils, although all of them are devilishly clever in their own fields.

I'll quit this metaphor while I'm still ahead. (Editor's note: I'm not ahead).

The panel consists of:

Thomas Anderson, speaking about the books of Terry Pratchett;

Tom Colton, whose specialist subject covers the films of James Bond;

Andy Cooke, Tolkien afficianado.

Dom Ellis, who knows more than pretty much anyone about Pathfinder’s RPG game world, Golarion.

Matthew Kresal, Specialist on Dr Who.

Is internal consistency a big thing in your source material? Does internal consistency matter? How does the author(s) deal with internal inconsistencies?

Tom Colton:

Internal consistency between the Bond movies is a slippery and strange beast indeed! For the sake of structure, I’m going to argue that consistency between the films (and their source material) exists – or at times doesn’t – on several levels:

• Adherence to source material.

• Maintaining the same character.

• Maintaining the same relationships.

Covering all of this would take more space than is available, so I’ll cover the first here, and the second and third will appear in separate articles.

The only relevance is that I like the car. It's a nice car. I want it. This is the closest I'll get.

Picture Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Adherence to source material

Right from the get-go, the films already contradict the novels. For those who don’t know, Dr No followed the novel From Russia With Love while the order is reversed in the movies, following the producers’ first choice of Thunderball falling through. It seems like they were set on the Caribbean setting at any rate.

Why the order matters so much is down to the reason Bond was even sent to Jamaica in the novel’s version of events. From Russia With Love ends with him killing SMERSH operative Rosa Klebb in her last bid to steal the encryption device at the heart of the book’s plot, but not before she gets her last kick in with a poisoned shoe, nearly killing 007. While he recovers (largely because Fleming’s attempt to launch a new TV series fell through and he needed money), his perceived carelessness gets him assigned to what initially seems to be a sedate mission, where the missing station chief is assumed to have eloped rather than been murdered.

This poisoning incident is vaguely alluded to in Dr No’s adaptation of the scene where Bond receives his iconic Walther PPK, but come the time to make Dr No’s sequel, From Russia With Love, Bond’s fight with Rosa Klebb instead ended with Tatiana Romanova shooting her former boss rather than Klebb successfully ganking Bond.

Taking a wider perspective on things, the first four four and sixth Bond films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) are relatively book-accurate adaptations minus one crucial change underpinning the films’ relationships to each other – I’ll get to that in a bit – but the fifth and seventh (You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever) barely have anything to do with their source material.

The novel You Only Live Twice, following a depressed James Bond struggling to find meaning in life until he’s shipped off to Japan and stumbles across his chance for vengeance, was considered to be unfilmable except for its setting, which prompted its adaptation prior to OHMSS due to the Japanmania of the time, and Roald Dahl had admitted to copying Dr. No’s plot structure for his script, and Diamonds Are Forever was completely overhauled to be a(n extremely lacklustre) sequel to OHMSS, mostly inspired by a dream where producer Albert R. Broccoli imagined Howard Hughes had been replaced by an imposter.

I also want to address one change from the novels to the films which has been credited for giving the series as much lasting power as it has: the change from SMERSH, the brutal enforcement wing of the NKVD, to SPECTRE, a non-ideological criminal organisation whose first depicted operative, Dr. No, lambasts both East and West as “points on a compass, each as stupid as the other.”

I’d like to return to how SPECTRE gets introduced and built up at another time, but the main point here is that even though only four years separated Dr. No’s publiction and theatrical debut, things had changed enough in the world that removing this one aspect of politics ensured that regardless of how tensions flared and ebbed between those two points of the compass, one could be assured that James Bond was on the side of right, without any bothersome ideologies in the way.

Thomas Anderson:

Reading Discworld taught me a lot of lessons about internal consistency. In the middle books of the series, there are often minor inconsistencies. Later, I learned through ancillary material like the (in)famous online Annotated Pratchett File (Pratchett and his fans were early adopters of the Internet) that Pratchett often made a lot more mistakes in the first draft, which were corrected by proof-readers who were also fans. For example, in The Truth, Unseen University’s mad Bursar gives his name to a journalist as “Dr A. A. Dinwiddie... that’s Dinwiddie with an O.” In the final book, this comes across as a typical Pratchettian amusing eccentricity, but is actually a minor proofing oversight, as Pratchett just did find-and-replace when a fan pointed out he had already given the Bursar’s name as Dinwiddie in the earlier book Hogfather. In the first draft, the Bursar said his name was Worblehat with an O, which makes rather more sense for the spelling part, but Pratchett had already mentioned in the Discworld Companion that Worblehat was the original name of the Librarian, who was famously transformed into an orang-utan on his first appearance. When I first read this background information, I remember being shocked that Pratchett hadn’t remembered something that I, as a dedicated fan, had. It’s only when I started writing grand projects like Look to the West myself that I understood that all a fan sees is the final product; the author can’t easily distinguish between what’s published and visible to the fans, and what are discarded ideas that circulate only in his or her head or private notebooks. The Companion included several things from Pratchett’s notes that only later appeared in books, or not at all, so now I am not surprised that he forgot he had already used that name. Incidentally, I also find this to be a minor problem with Brandon Sanderson, an author whose works I enjoy a lot, but I worry that he tends to give away titbits of information to fans at book signings and so on and then lose track of whether they’re ‘canon’ and known to the audience as a whole or not.

Getting back to the question, Pratchett was always more relaxed about inconsistencies than his fans. Eventually, in Thief of Time, he comes up with an in-universe explanation, which gives shout-outs to some of the more prominent inconsistencies noticed by fans (eg, Small Gods and Pyramids both feature some characters in common, despite later being implied to be set as much as a century apart; the fact that a 16th century style Shakespearean theatre is considered innovative in Wyrd Sisters, but the same city has a creaking old 19th century style opera house, etc). It turns out that history got shattered by a mad science experiment at some point when an evil genius tried to trap the anthropomorphic personification of Time in a glass clock, and ever since, the History Monks have been trying to stitch it back together. This has led to anachronisms and other inconsistencies of the type mentioned above. This is a typically Pratchettian solution; as he had already been saying for years: “There are no continuity errors in Discworld, just alternate pasts.”

Original sketch of The Globe. Innovative in Wyrd Sisters.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Pratchett was always keen not to be caged by setting down too much in black and white and blocking avenues for future stories, and was initially against Stephen Briggs mapping Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld for this reason, though he eventually went along with the project. It is telling that, despite Pratchett’s cavalier approach to continuity, Briggs found that a natural shape for Ankh-Morpork still fell out of the descriptions he had made of how far different locations in the city are from each other.

As a bittersweet postscript, the long-term reader can actually perceive Pratchett’s deterioration from his Alzheimer’s disease in the last few books – not necessarily due to the writing quality, which was often very good up to the end, but because there are so many continuity nods and links to past books. These are very unlike Pratchett’s usual style (where each book usually stands fairly alone and any nods to past ones are subtle) and, to me at least, seem to suggest the actions of fans needing to be more active in the composition process, as fans tend to always want more direct continuity links and references. This is particularly noticeable in the penultimate Discworld book Raising Steam. Perhaps I am reading too much into this and it was just more fan influence regardless of Pratchett’s condition, as something of this can also be seen as far back as Going Postal and Thud!, which turn jokey references from the earlier Men at Arms (“Glom of Nit” and Koom Valley) into more serious themes – again, tending to be against the more throwaway humour of the earlier books.

Matthew Kresal:

With Dr Who, it depends entirely upon when and whom you ask!

Certainly, in the first seventeen or so years, not very much. Even when you had the same writer working across multiple serials with the characters and villains, it could be a mess. Terry Nation is a perfect example of that as the creator and primary writer of the Daleks. Watch those early serials, especially the first one, and they’re running on static electricity and descended from a race known as the Dals. The static electricity is so ingrained even became a plot point in the 1965 play The Curse of the Daleks and the 1966 serial The Power of the Daleks (the former being co-written by Terry Nation and David Whitaker, with Whitaker writing the latter).

No, they've never looked like that.




Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Fast forward to the 1970s. The Daleks hadn’t been on-screen since 1967, so having them back (and in COLOUR!) was a major deal. And, of course, Nation becomes the writer behind all but one of their appearances that decade. But curiously, the Daleks suddenly lost their dependency on static electricity, it never even getting a mention. Then 1975’s The Genesis of the Daleks happened, and suddenly, the Daleks are descended from the Kaleds and have a creator named Davros who sits in a life support machine that looks an awful lot like the bottom part of a Dalek. I can only imagine the reaction if online fandom had existed then at Nation having the sheer audacity (or lack of care) to change the Dalek’s origins like that.

Once John Nathan-Turner took over as producer in 1980 (and stayed there for the rest of the decade and Doctor Who’s original run), it was a different story. He brought in Ian Levine, a record producer and Doctor Who fan, who acted as an unofficial-but-official continuity supervisor. We have him to thank for a gloriously fun minute or so sequence in the serial Earthshock where the Cybermen leaders recognise the Doctor and bring up the Doctor’s previous encounters, complete with brief clips from earlier (and existing) serials. It’s a fun scene forty years on, but all the more thrilling at a time when repeats, home video, and streaming weren’t a thing.

On the flip side, Levine is at least partially responsible for the later Cybermen serial Attack of the Cybermen three years later. There’s an accusation in some corners that mid-late eighties Doctor Who was all too obsessed with its past, and serials like Attack show there was some truth to that. There are references to practically every single Cyberman serial made up until that time, with the back half of the series tying in with their initial appearance in the 1966 serial The Tenth Planet and set among the Cyberman tombs from the 1967’s The Tomb of the Cybermen. They went so far as to hire the same actor as Cyber Controller from the serial made 18 years before, even though you couldn’t see his face or hear his voice clearly in either story. All to keep continuity and because Tomb of the Cybermen didn’t exist in the BBC archives at the time. It was a mess of a story, and I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that about two million viewers walked away from its first episode and didn’t tune in again for the rest of its original run.

Once the show went off the air and the spin-off media took hold, consistency went out of the window. There was an initial effort with it between the Virgin New Adventures and the comic in Doctor Who Magazine, but that had its limits (and still infamously led to stories with similar premises appearing at the same time involving the Seventh Doctor, parallel Earths, and prehistoric reptiles known as the Silurians). Indeed, 1990s and early 2000s Doctor Who was a shrinking fiefdom in hindsight, but people working on different media fought over who had the “real” continuation of the series. It led after the 1996 TV Movie introduced Paul McGann’s Doctor to four contradictory continuities involving his Doctor, two of them being comics in separate publications, each claiming to be the definitive one. In the end, the Big Finish audio dramas won out more or less by being the only strand to survive past the 2005 TV revival and its showrunners (Steven Moffat especially) being particular fans of them, to the point that Moffat dropped in various audio-centric Eighth Doctor companions into the 2013 short The Night of the Doctor where McGann returned briefly to the role.

The late Terrance Dicks, who script-edited the series from 1968-74 and wrote TV serials and eventually novels and plays based on the show, compared the series writer’s attitude toward continuity with the book 1066 And All That. Namely, that it was what the writer could remember when they were working on the series. And even in 2023, that still feels like it’s the case, which is understandable given the contradictions just on-screen alone, not factoring in hundreds (if not a thousand or more) spin-off tales.

Andy Cooke:

Internal consistency is huge for Tolkien, as you can imagine, given how detailed his entire structure is. He also considered himself bound by anything that appeared in print: in one detailed investigation of the background of Elrond and Elros, he abandoned it solely because the name “Cair Andros” had appeared in print in Lord of the Rings (it was based on the root “-ros” in Elros’ name and how he received the name, but he decided the language involved was wrong as it wouldn’t have appeared in the name of the island in Anduin).

This caused issues, because it ran up against his great weakness. And yes, the great worldbuilder had a fundamental weakness: continually being dissatisfied with what he’d already written. He was constantly revising and revising, changing even core concepts of the entire mythology. The early parts of the First Age were rewritten time and again as he went through them, but he never completed a full rewrite (only ever in sketch form), as he’d then have another idea and go back and revise something and start again. Some key areas towards the end: the Fall of Gondolin, The Sack of Doriath, The Voyage of Earendil, and The War of Wrath never got rewritten. In most cases, the stories he wrote for them in Lost Tales (with a fundamentally different flavour and many different conceptions) were all that there were. He even threw out the entire basis of his mythology and tried to start again at around the time of writing The Lord of the Rings (this is known as his Myths Transformed conception).

The Fall of Turgon's Tower.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

He’d go into extreme detail to try to get the consistency right, which is why so much of the world-building is so incredibly realistic. He calculated the numbers of Elves in their earliest generations in full detail to ensure plausible numbers – and recalculated and recalculated as he changed the time concepts.

The overwhelming problem with this is that when you’re changing something that detailed, you’re going to cause clashes and disjunctions and inconsistencies – especially when you change major concepts and backgrounds. This caused him to rewrite and rewrite, and then never finish. The Silmarillion and background world we have today is not what he ever had at any single point in time. His son, Christopher, was charged by him to put it together as coherently as possible and he made a heroic effort to do so, drawing on texts from the thirties, fifties and sixties and hammering them into some form of consistency. There were areas where Christopher (helped by Guy Gavriel Kay, who was a postgraduate who assisted him at the time) had to go into full-on invention to modernise texts from the earliest conceptions (1917 to the early 1920s) where the characters and background were completely incompatible with how the legendarium had turned out by the time Tolkien died.

It does matter and it was a huge issue for Tolkien – and one where his Achilles Heel was shown (albeit very well covered up by his son). When you go into massive detail in your worldbuilding, you can’t afford to shake it up and revise it too much and too deeply – it breaks.

Dom Ellis:

Consistency. Good luck with maintaining that across campaigns.

There is one issue for maintaining internal consistency in Golarion and in any RPG setting, but especially this one where so much of what they do is their adventure paths and books or world lore. That problem, as always with RPGs, is those dang players.

Adventure Paths may attempt to tell a consistent story, but with players, anything can happen. Maybe the fighter decides to befriend the dragon instead of killing it.

This is harder to control unless you really want to railroad the players. Individual adventures and GMs differ on how much they like their players to be on tracks – personally, I am happy for them to faff around in a town chatting for months, but this doesn’t do much for pushing the story on.

The writers and team behind the Golarion setting can’t really account for this, and at this point, there have been so many adventures that the world would look totally different on every table.

So, the writers at the start of the Pathfinder Second Edition went through all the previous adventure paths and in the Lost Omens World Guide, the most ‘wide’ setting book in the Lost Omens line, they had a timeline which hinted at and summarised the events of previous adventures, some of which were quite world changing (like the large haunted scar in the earth outside Absalom, thanks to the machinations of the Whispering Tyrant, and the closure or the World Wound).

In first edition, I believe the policy was to not really mention the results of the adventures in order to avoid spoilers for those who hadn’t played them, but I believe going forward they are deciding an outcome and aren’t as worried mentioning it in future books, so that it does seem more of a living world that moves on with time.

Another point on internal consistency is that it isn’t just being written by one author, nor just a group of staff writers with access to a Lore Bible, but rather the majority of works have been written by freelancers, with editors and creative leads making sure it doesn’t go too off the wall. There is some stuff which has been buried or not mentioned again, but I think that, all things considered, the team at Paizo manage to do a fairly good job of keeping things consistent.


Comment on this article HERE.

Thomas Anderson is the author of several SLP books, including the Look To The West series, The Surly Bonds of Earth, and is editor of the Great War anthology N'Oublions Jamais.

Andy Cooke is the author of many books, including The Fourth Lectern, and the Endeavour series, from SLP, and the Shadowlands Chronicles and Skyborn from Sergeant Frosty Publications.

Matthew Kresal is the author of Our Man On The Hill from SLP.


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