There are, roughly speaking, three kinds of consistency that a viewer expects from a story:
- External Consistency: Consistency with the real world.
The fictional universe is Like Reality Unless Noted. Violations of external consistency are "unrealistic."
- Genre Consistency: Consistency with other fictional works.
The fictional universe should behave like other works in its genre, unless specifically noted otherwise. Any fictional concepts, characters, or settings borrowed from other works should behave as they do in those works. Tropes are Played Straight. For example, a dragon is generally expected to be a flying reptilian creature that breathes fire; if it's different in your work, the differences should be pointed out before they start affecting the plot. If your work takes place in an Expanded Universe, you're generally expected to be consistent with the (non-expanded) Canon.
- Internal Consistency: Consistency with itself.
Any rules, events, settings, or characters that have been established within the fictional work continue to exist and function as they did previously, unless otherwise indicated.
Consistency aids Willing Suspension of Disbelief
, while violations of consistency may be jolting and unexpected, which can benefit both humor and drama. The viewer would be quite surprised to learn that in your universe, Hitler was a circus performer, dragons are scared of fire
, and that the married couple no longer recognize each other in Act III. Generally, if a work is inconsistent, the viewer expects there to be a good reason for it. On the other hand, sometimes violations of consistency go unnoticed even if they're quite obvious, or may even be expected
; e.g. The Coconut Effect
violates External Consistency.
Often, a feature in a work is consistent at one level and not at another; for example, maybe your vampires glitter in sunlight
, which is not genre consistent with other works featuring vampires, but as long as they always do that, it is
internally consistent. If a work forgoes External Consistency in favor of Genre Consistency, you have The Coconut Effect
. If conversely a work forgoes Genre Consistency in favor of External Consistency, then you have Reality Ensues
Sometimes, as in the case of sequels, it can be unclear whether two works are distinct works or part of the same work, making the distinction between Genre Consistency and Internal Consistency a bit fuzzy.
An Omnipresent Trope
, since every work of fiction has some
kind of consistency (except maybe Finnegans Wake
No examples please — this is just a descriptive Super Trope
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Fiction in General
Presence of External Consistency
"Realistic." "Just like in real life." "That could really happen."
Lack of External Consistency
"Unrealistic." "It doesn't really work that way." "It wouldn't happen that way in real life."
Excess of External Consistency
"Too real." "Is this supposed to be fiction or a documentary?"
When External Consistency Doesn't Work
"It's this way in reality, but it shouldn't be this way in fiction."
Presence of Genre Consistency
"Just like in other works." "Seen this one before."
Lack of Genre Consistency
"A different take on X." "That's not how it usually works in stories."
Excess of Genre Consistency
"Too much like other works, nothing new or original."
Presence of Internal Consistency
"Everything fits together." "They've set rules and they're sticking to them." "Like it was carefully planned."
Lack of Internal Consistency
"Wait, where did that come from?" "Stuff that happened before no longer matters." "It's like a whole different work." "Will they make up their minds?"
Excess of Internal Consistency
"This thing is so loaded with rules and self-references you'll never figure it out."