Monday, May 21, 2012

Am I just too picky? -- writing tip

Question:  I know you are a sticker and complain bitterly about the "quality" of grammar. But how important is it? You made a note about my manuscript that says,  "Objects lay, but people lie." So is it going to cost me sales if I say, "Vanessa was laying on the bed?" instead of "Vanessa was lying on the bed?" Who cares? Isn't it what's going on in the bed that matters to the reader?

Answer: You have a good point. If it's a good story maybe it won't matter.  If it's a bad story, perfect grammar isn't going to help it, either. I've read some books where even the sex was dull!  That's pretty hard to do, but it can happen.

The bottom line about why I'm so picky in my notes to authors is that when mistakes get in the final copy, then it makes both of us look unprofessional. It's my job, as much as yours, to fix those things. Letting you know what I have done and why only seems like a courtesy, but I can skip that if you want.

The main reason I am so picky is that readers do notice such mistakes. When they do, they are instantly pulled out of the story and begin to pay attention to the words instead of the action. That's always bad.

Don’t break the dream by making careless mistakes with words. It is a fiction writer’s job to create a dream world for the reader to enter. S/he must make that dream world as real and as free of anachronisms or other “wake up calls” as possible.

I am currently reading, supposedly for pleasure, the second in a series by a very prolific and successful self-published author. She is undeniably good and her books are the same. Interesting characters, intricate plots, great dialogue. An element of  Fun. She has a wonderful sense of humor and is very popular with many readers. In this one, so far (and I'm only three chapters in), I have had more than three dozen "wake up calls" due to her carelessness.

First she didn't recheck Book One of the series so while I was looking forward to revisiting the characters from the book I had just finished, and was eager to see them again in the background of Story Two, I found both the former hero and heroine had different names than in the first book, their baby was also rebaptized, though they owned the same ranch and the plot from book one was recounted accurately enough to one of the new characters to fill her, and any readers who hadn't seen the earlier book, in on the back story. The original main characters' names were both different. So, as a reader, I felt confused and annoyed from the beginning, wondering if it WAS indeed the second book of the series and if they two renamed characters were really the ones I had known before. And that was just the begining.

Second, I'd guess that she (most really prolific writers do) uses voice recognition software and obviously had not read or edited the text afterward to check for homonym errors and other inherent problems, which abound in every voice-to-text program. Every exclamation mark in the text has somehow changed itself to a Capital I. The "son" was shining. The horses were guided by "rains." People spoke "allowed." This is not just an occasional, one-per-chapter jab of reality in a 16 chapter book, but something on almost every page drags my attention away from the characters, what is happening to them, and what they care about. Even though I am wearing my everyday reader's hat and not my Picky Editor's Chapeau, when I see errors like these, I am instantly pulled out of the story and into my chair. I don't feel the eager enjoyment of an avid a reader, which I truly am. I feel frustrated and annoyed.

So if it's a good book, it won't matter. Maybe, but I'm kind of sorry I invested my money this time. Though the price was very reasonable. My income is hard-to-come-by and even $3.00 is an investment that requires thought. Yes, the characters are amusing. Yes the woman can write. Yes the story is a good one, or would be if I could stay inside the dream. Will I buy more books by the same author?

That's doubtful, even though her later works (the ones that I've read, anyway) are an  improvement over this particular title, ALL of them have more than a few similar mistakes and every single book I've read from her has left me feeling frustrated and annoyed -- though none as deeply as this one. She is a very talented woman. She can plot and write well and enjoyably, though apparently not accurately.

Third: Will I finish it? Probably. I HAVE paid for it, after all. But it may take awhile. I keep losing the thread, forgetting the story, and feeling less than compelled to keep reading.

Finally, will I spend good money on this author's books again?  Not likely. I have bought five and am not eager to repeat the present experience. She has more than 50 titles for sale and many of them appear to be vastly entertaining. But every one of her titles has had some frustration attached, despite the fact that the stories were satisfying. Now when I see her name on a review or an e-mail announcing a new title, what I'll remember sub-consciously is frustration, not pleasure. There are plenty of other books that won't give me a feeling like this.

Yes, I know. 

I'm just too picky.


  1. When I read a book, the author is the expert relating history, fictional or real. I therefore expect him/her to be expert in everything he says. Unless you're writing an in the style of The Color Purple (which seems like a winner every time from the books I've seen out there), there's not much excuse for bad grammar.
    If a person really can't spell and has only a rudimentary knowledge of grammar, it might be wiser to write another Color Purple, but that's not likely to happen. You have to know your stuff to write that badly and break hearts.

  2. Too true! See, that was her Choice to do. She knows the rules and chooses when to break them. That's okay. It's not knowing them that makes us look like a dunce.

  3. I applaud you, Arline! Whether the author intends it or not, books, especially fiction, teach language. It seems in so much of publishing anymore language errors abound. Blame it on the author or editor--I've seen mistakes made by both.

    I'm proud you don't allow it.

  4. I agree! Arline is on the money when it comes to telling authors right from wrong. I'll take her advice any day of the week...including weekends.
    Hank LeGrand