Edit Ruthlessly   2 comments

As writers, we’re also readers. What is a common mistake you see in many books? Offer suggestions for making a change. You can even share a paragraph from a book and correct it.

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Image result for image of manuscript editingI love to read and when I’m not writing, that’s often what I am doing. I love books by indie authors, but I also have favorites among the authors you’ll find in a mainstream bookstore.

Because I was trained in editing and have made my living at least partially editing the writing of others, I tend to notice errors and if they’re in a published book, they drive me crazy because I can’t fix them and, depending on the author, I wonder how they got past the professional editor.

Errors?

I have no opinion on the Oxford comma. They are forbidden in journalism writing, which is why I rarely use them, but it’s not technically an error to use it. If you don’t know what an Oxford comma is, google it. It’s useful information. My rare usage is reserved for those times when absolute accuracy matters.

So, what do I consider to be errors?

Well, there are the standard ones – were, where … there, they’re … it’s, its … affect, effect … lie, lay, laid, lain  — yes, those are different words with different meanings. Learn to use them correctly, authors! Grammar and spelling really do matter. Not all your readers are going to have editing skills, but they will enjoy your work more if grammar and misspelling errors don’t disturb their experience and that pays dividends. Learn the difference between a possessive word that ends with apostrophe then “s” (usually, with some exceptions like “its”) which is different from a contraction that might also end with an apostrophe “s”. Then there are plural words which still end in “s”, but have no apostrophe … ever. That frustrates me.

A while back, I was reading a novel by a traditionally published author and he had a huge continuity error in his book. Remember how in Lost the hatch took a lengthy hike to get to originally, but once they were using it all the time, they seemed to get to it in a few minutes of walking? That bothered me and this author’s error was similar. The rest of the book was good and I wouldn’t say don’t read it (which is why I’m not identifying it), but it did somewhat spoil my enjoyment of it.

In a similar vein, avoid anything that might knock the reader out of a willing suspension of disbelief. I was beta-reading a while back and the author used the American terms for currency throughout a fantasy novel. I understand why she did it, but it completely threw me out of the story. She admitted she did it for convenience sake and put some thought into a currency system for her world that will appear in the published book.

#1 Pet Peeve?

When I learned American Sign Language, I had to accept that some very similar seeming signs that sometimes have similar ways of speaking in English gloss very different concepts. For example, “see” and “look” are similar looking, but very different concepts and Deaf will laugh at you if you get them wrong.

  • “His eyes dwelt on her form.”
  • “His eyes ran along the floor.”
  • “His eyes were fixed on the sky.”

Well, let’s hope not. The hero should keep his eyes in his head. His gaze dwelt on her form. His gaze ran along the floor. His gaze was fixed on the sky. Let’s not give readers the word picture of eyes rolling around on the floor, cloud-hopping and/or groping maidens.

#2 Pet Peeve?

The overuse of the word “that” annoys me. For example, “that” isn’t needed after “said” about 99% of the time, yet even my graphic above uses it when it isn’t needed.

  • “It has been said that words are like inflated money …”
  • “It has been said words are like inflated money …”

There is a simple test for this. Can you think of any other verb that is normally followed by the word “that”?

  • “He climbed that the tree …” Nope
  • “She sang that the song …” Nope

You get my point, right?

Okay, so now you know. These things annoy me as a reader and I hope I avoid annoying others with same issues. Yes, we all make mistakes and an occasional typo making it to the finished book is understandable, but be ruthless with yourself so that you eliminate as few errors as possible.

2 responses to “Edit Ruthlessly

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  1. I have to agree with you on all of the above. Especially the word “that”. Another one is “very”.

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