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.
- 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. If your work takes place in an Expanded Universe, you're generally expected to be consistent with the (non-expanded) Canon.
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 — commonly accepted reasons include the Rule of Funny (sudden deviations from expected outcomes are comedy bread-and-butter) and "the uncanny" (deliberately making the audience feel that something is "off" about the world). 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, by definition, sacrifices some External Consistency for Genre Consistency. Conversely, if a work forgoes Genre Consistency in favor of External Consistency, then you have a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome.
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. Similarly, if a work sacrifices a lot of External Consistency but is heavy on Internal Consistency, you get Magic A Is Magic A.
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 and index.
- Canon: The stuff you're supposed to be consistent with.
- Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Aided by consistency.
- MST3K Mantra: A common reminder not to focus too much on inconsistencies.
- Deconstruction: A work looks at the serious reactions and consequences to a work's conventions that are usually glossed over.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: A work set in the past deliberately shows the unpleasant beliefs and aspects of the past and doesn't whitewash any of it.
- Like Reality, Unless Noted
- Plausible Deniability
- Shown Their Work: It is apparent that whatever subject is referenced or used in the work, the creators did thorough research to ensure they made no mistakes about the subject.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The realistic consequences and outcomes of certain tropes are demonstrated rather than having the same results as in any other work of fiction.
- Anime Reality
- Artistic License
- Based on a Great Big Lie
- Celebrity Paradox: Presumably, a movie's actors and other works they starred in don't exist in the setting of the movie.
- Falsely Advertised Accuracy: Insisting you've done the research when it's obvious you didn't.
- Hollywood Style: An index on how things are unrealistically portrayed by Hollywood.
- Improbable Behaviour Tropes: Characters behave in way that would be very unlikely in real life.
- The Kids Are American: Characters have American accents even though their parents are not American.
- Mutually Fictional: It's established that two works are works of fiction in each other's realities.
- No Endor Holocaust
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Characters who are children or teenagers never age regardless of how long the series lasts.
- Politically Correct History: Works taking place in the past change or remove aspects of the past that today's people would find offensive or politically incorrect.
- Rule of Index
- This Index Is Anachronistic
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story
- Accidentally Correct Writing
- Autobiographical Role
- Not So Crazy Anymore: A work makes an idea out to be ridiculous, only for it to be validated years down the line.
- Realism-Induced Horror: A given element is jarringly realistic for the tone of a work.
- Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay: A gameplay mechanic is more realistic than the conventions of the genre would suggest.
- Unintentional Period Piece: A work references fads, pop culture and other stuff from the time it was made, causing the work not to age well.
- The Coconut Effect
- Reality Is Unrealistic
- Misaimed "Realism": An attempt to add realism to the work backfires due to poor handling.
- All Myths Are True: It is established that all the well-known myths and legends actually happened and weren't just stories.
- Expanded Universe: Information not given in the work itself is revealed in related tie-in media.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink
- The Laws of Magic
- Played Straight
- Audience-Alienating Premise: Often results from reworking a genre in ways that would turn off fans of that genre.
- Genre Refugee
- Genre Shift
- Halfway Plot Switch
- How Unscientific!
- Our Monsters Are Different
- Out-of-Genre Experience
- Playing with a Trope (particularly Subverted Trope, Averted Trope)
- Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: A saccharine and lighthearted show has an incongruously sinister villain.
- Violation of Common Sense: Being rewarded for performing an action that goes against the logic of the genre.
- Cliché Storm
- Formula with a Twist: An entry into a genre which follows the same basic formula, with some new twist on the concept.
- Strictly Formula: Every episode basically has the same plot.
- Ascended Glitch
- Continuity Nod: Referencing the events of a previous episode or installment.
- Character Rerailment: Consistent with original characterization at the expense of later characterization.
- Developer's Foresight: Video game developers are able to anticipate anything the player might try to do in the game.
- Jigsaw Puzzle Plot
- Magic A Is Magic A
- Minovsky Physics
- Sliding Scale of Gameplay and Story Integration: The higher a game is on this scale, the more internally consistent it is.
- The Producer Thinks of Everything
- Universe Bible
- Video Games and Fate
- Abandoned Catchphrase: A phrase a character frequently said initially, but later stops saying or doesn't say as often anymore.
- Animation Bump: Moments in an animated work where the animation is of a higher quality.
- Ass Pull: An explanation or solution that comes out of nowhere and completely disregards what the story has already established, named from the idea that the author just pulled an answer from their ass out of desperation for a quick and easy way to resolve the conflict.
- Ball Index: When a character briefly acts inconsistently (referred to in these tropes as "holding the [trait] ball") for the sake of the plot.
- Bellisario's Maxim: "Don't examine this too closely." Paying too much attention to the inconsistencies can be to a work's detriment.
- Beyond the Impossible
- Breaking Old Trends
- Broad Strokes: A sequel or reboot establishes that the events of older stories happened, but not necessarily in the exact same way as depicted in the original stories.
- Character Derailment
- Character Rerailment: Inconsistent with later characterization in favor of original characterization.
- The Chris Carter Effect: If too many inconsistencies build up, the audience could leave.
- Continuity Drift
- Continuity Snarl
- Depending on the Artist: A character's physical appearance changes depending on which artist is drawing them.
- Depending on the Writer: A character's personality, interests and so on change depending on who is writing the current episode.
- Discontinuity Nod: Characters make a disparaging reference to a reviled part of the franchise.
- Deus ex Machina
- Fridge Logic: Inconsistencies the audience only realizes after the fact (as in when they're going to the fridge for a snack).
- Gameplay and Story Segregation: What is established in the game's story is not consistent with what is possible or apparent in the actual gameplay.
- Handwave: A work gives a token acknowledgement and dismissal of an inconsistency.
- Inconsistent Coloring
- Inconsistent Dub
- In Name Only: An adaptation that is so different from the source material that the title is pretty much the only thing the two works have in common.
- Negative Continuity: A work lacks a consistent canon, so essentially every episode contradicts each other.
- Off-Model: A character has an inconsistency in their character design.
- Out-of-Character Moment: A moment where a character's behavior contrasts strongly with how they usually act.
- Plot Hole: A story has an inconsistency with the plot preventing it from making complete sense.
- Retcon: Making retroactive changes to the established continuity.
- Series Continuity Error: The series at one point makes a very noticeable continuity error that is too glaring to overlook or excuse.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: Very often, Time Travel is just plain not consistent.
- Unreliable Canon
- A Wizard Did It: Hastily explaining inconsistencies as happening because of magic.
- Writer Conflicts with Canon: What the creator says is canon is contradictory to what is seen in the actual work.
- Vague Age: It isn't clear how old a character is supposed to be, which can be the result of the series not being consistent on which age group the character belongs to.
- Voodoo Shark: An attempt at fixing a Plot Hole that only results in making an even bigger Plot Hole.
- Your Size May Vary: The size of a character is inconsistent.
- Continuity Lockout: If you aren't caught up on everything, you won't know what's going on in the current episode or installment.
- Continuity Porn
- Kudzu Plot
- Plot Archaeology