In fiction, continuity (also called time-scheme) is consistency of the characteristics of persons, plot, objects, places and events seen by the reader or viewer. It is of relevance to several media.
The usual use of continuity in fan fiction is in referring to a given fan fiction series. As every fan fiction departs from the canon at least to the degree of the stories written they are said to occur in their own continuity, Banshee Squadron continuity or Star Trek: Athena continuity.
This distinction is necessary as different authors, working independently, will use canon or fanon established elements differently. Conflicts of continuity are bound to arise when thousands of people play with the same idea toys and don't communicate with each other (a logistical impassibility). Even within the TrekCreative community no effort is made to rectify the works of various authors (Your Board, Your Wave).
Film & Television
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. It also applies to other art forms, including novels, comics, anime, videogames and animation, though usually on a smaller scale.
Most productions have a script supervisor on hand whose job is 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, some of which is sometimes assembled into the story bible for the production. It usually regards factors both within the scene and often even technical details including meticulous records of camera positioning and equipment settings. The use of a Polaroid camera was standard but has since been replaced by the advent of digital cameras. 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.
Today, maintaining strong plot and character continuity is also a high priority for many writers of long-running television series, or should be. As we well know Star Trek has honored plot continuity mainly in the breach.
n comic books, continuity has also come to mean a set of contiguous events, sometimes said to be "set in the same universe"
While most continuity errors are subtle, such as changes in the level of drink in a character's glass, others can be more noticeable, such as sudden drastic changes in appearance of a character. Such errors in continuity can ruin the illusion of realism, and affect suspension of disbelief. In cinema, special attention must be paid to continuity because films are rarely shot in the order in which they are presented: 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, season, and personnel availability. The story may return to the bridge several times throughout an episode, expensive to move from set to set, those scenes will likely be filmed all at once in order to reduce costs. There are three main types of continuity errors.
Editing errors can occur when a character in a scene references a scene or incident that has not occurred yet, or that they should not yet be aware of.
Visual errors are instant discontinuities occurring in visual media. Items of clothing change colors, shadows get longer or shorter, items within a scene change place or disappear.
Though visual continuity errors are logically confined to visual media, parallel mistakes can occur in text. In "The Miller's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales a door is ripped off its hinges only to be slowly closed again in the next scene.
Plot errors 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 (or vice versa).
Star Trek is rather ruefully noted for being full of such plot errors, such as Kirk having two "first cruises", and dozens of "first girls" (at least that is what he told them.) There are also holes created when one movie or episode is made before an "earlier" one, such as Relics (TNG) and the movie Generations.
Sadly fan fiction is not immune to such plot errors. We don't always remember what we wrote "back when", or even on the last page.
Dealing with errors
Or: I watch Star Trek; I can rationalize anything!
When continuity mistakes have been made, explanations are often proposed by either writers or fans to smooth over discrepancies. Fans sometimes make up explanations for such errors that may or may not be integrated into canon; this has come to be colloquially known as fanwanking. Often when a fan does not agree with one of the events in a story (such as the death of a favorite character) they will choose to ignore the event in question so that their enjoyment of the franchise is not diminished.
When the holder of the intellectual property discards all existing continuity and starts from scratch it is known as rebooting. Fans call a less extreme literary technique that erases one episode The Reset Switch.
Discrepancies in past continuity are sometimes made deliberately; this is known as retconning. Retcons are also sometimes used to either correct or cover up a perceived error. These changes may be made either by the same writer who made it, or more commonly by an author that has taken over the creative lead of a corporate owned show or publication. Not to be confused with the continuance of a reality (continuality).