Hi, fellow readers and writers! And assorted peeps!
I’ve been on the road for a few days. When I travel, I take books. Actual paperbacks. OMG, like, I must be some kind of antique! Don’t worry, I also take my Kindle, but I generally have at least 1 paperback, usually 2. This time, I had 5, because I was going to be on the road for a few days.
Anyway, I had a couple of thrillers by a writer I enjoy reading, an urban fantasy by another writer I enjoy reading, and two novels by urban fantasy authors new to me. All of these paperbacks are published by mainstream houses, big imprints.
One of my writing colleagues says that when you read a novel and all of its parts are working as they should (plot, characterization, dialogue, narrative style), then you don’t stop reading. You flow with the text from beginning to end (maybe stopping to re-read something because it was really cool or really struck you). But if the parts aren’t working, you’ll know because it’s like hitting a pothole when you’re driving. Or coming to a traffic light where you sit for a while.
And that’s exactly what happened while reading one of the books by an urban fantasy author whose work I didn’t know.
The things that interrupt my reading flow are the dreaded “telling and not showing,” stilted dialogue, plot holes, and misspellings. Typos I can understand because I’m an editor, and I get that not everything will be caught. We do the best we can, but a few get through. I can forgive a typo here and there in a book. However, misspellings are another matter. An editor needs to know how to spell and which form of a word is correct. In one of these books, editors dropped the ball. In the other, they let a couple things slip through. Editing is, in some ways, an art. But like any art, it requires extensive knowledge of writing and grammatical mechanics. Editors need to be painstaking in their work. They need to be detail-oriented. And sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. Even at the big houses.
One of the new authors I read has a really great character, with a lot of cool ass-kicking potential in terms of urban fantasy. That’s part of the appeal (for me, anyway) of the genre. Characters who can both inflict and take some damage. They generally have flaws, but when they go up against the supernatural and human baddies, you feel confident in their abilities but you also know that they may themselves take a beating.
So I was stoked to try out this author, whose first book was published about a year ago, on the basis of the character. And the character was super cool. But sadly, the author got bogged down in absolutely unnecessary telling/not showing, the dreaded “As You Know, Bob,” and the kind of dialogue that really irks me. That is, conversations that go like this:
“I am not sure what you mean, but I expect that you will meet me at the place we talked about.”
“I will see you there. I hope you are going to bring the weapons.”
Read that aloud. Notice anything? Does it feel/sound a little weird? Exactly. Who talks like that? Who says “I am” all the time rather than “I’m”? Or “you are” instead of “you’re”? These characters were not 19th-century British nobles. They were average working-class Americans.
As for the AYKB, it was throughout this book, and that invariably upsets the pacing of a novel. The character would be in the process of doing something and then the reader would get treated to paragraphs of backstory that didn’t really have relevance to what he was involved in or long descriptions of guns and weaponry that didn’t advance the plot or do much of anything except make me stop and sigh in frustration. GET ON WITH IT, was something I silently pleaded to the character. I don’t need a description of what your car and your guns can do, especially when you’re in the midst of a chase or battle. I mean, SRSLY? You’re running from a horde of freaky vampires and you’re telling us what’s so great about your getaway vehicle? Get in the freaking car! Fight the damn battle! I don’t need to know the specs of your ammo or guns when you’re about to blast the hell out of an ambush, or how far they can shoot or what kind of damage they can inflict. It was sort of like reading something like this:
The vampire lord’s lair was just ahead. Jim crept around the corner of the building, which had been originally constructed in 1933, as part of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The bricks were the original ones, mined from the local quarry, and carted to the work site by mules. Jim’s fingers brushed the brick, still warm, and clutched his Sig Sauer P226, capable of firing 19 mm Parabellum bullets. Jim got his ammo at Paranormal Arms, which cast his Parabellums in silver. Strong enough to put down younger vampires, but probably only good enough to stun the older. Nevertheless, Jim loved his trusty Sig, because of its decocking lever above the magazine release which served him well on that last job in Cleveland, when he walked into a vamp ambush and blah dee blah blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda
Where the (*#(*&%*(# is the damn vampire and when are you going to shoot his mo-fo ass?
Imagine that going on throughout most of the book.
The narrative issues were compounded by repetition. Some of the characters were described with a particular personality quirk, and then a few pages on, that quirk was referenced. Then again on the next page. Then again. Once is enough, fellow authors. You can then bring it up during the course of your story as either a running joke between characters (dialogue) or a flaw that gets a character into bad situations. You don’t need to TELL your readers again and again why a particular character is motivated to do something.
I also found a really annoying typo that was repeated twice on one page and two misspellings that drove me nuts. In one instance, the character was having a ta-da moment. The moment called for the character to get that lightbulb over his head and shout “Voila!” However, the word was spelled “viola.” So basically, the character ended up talking about a stringed instrument when he was having a “ta-da” moment. OOPS. In another instance, one of the character’s friends died, and the character said, “vaya con dios.” Except it appeared in print as “via con dios.”
Thus the importance of editors and proofreaders. A skilled developmental editor would have made sure that all the “As You Know, Bob” moments were sliced out of this plot, making it leaner, meaner, and a much stronger read. A skilled proofreader should have caught those typos. A skilled editor should have caught all that plus the “via con dios” mistake and the “viola” boo-boo (though a proofreader, too, should have caught those).
So that book seriously disappointed me, and it’s too bad because I liked the character. But I had to wade through pages of backstory and unnecessary description to get glimpses of him. I won’t be reading the next books in the series.
Anyway, the other book I read was also by an author whose work I didn’t know, and this one had much smoother narrative, tight subplots, good dialogue, and a super-cool character. I will definitely read the next books in this series, but I did catch a couple of misspellings, illustrating, once again, the importance of a trained and skilled editor/proofreader.
Know the difference between AFFECT and EFFECT. Because I do, and when I find those words used incorrectly, it bugs me. Yes, I know. I’m uptight about some things. Here. Grammar Girl will help you, too, know the difference. The author needed effect here, but used affect instead. Nobody caught it.
Also, know the difference between ALLUSION and ILLUSION. The author needed allusion in the book, but used illusion instead and the editors and proofreaders didn’t catch it. And yes, I know. I’m uptight about some things. 😀
I want to make it very clear — and I’ll discuss this later — it is not an editor’s job to rewrite your work. It is, however, an editor’s job to point things out to you and work with you to create the best possible manuscript within your original vision. If you’re fortunate enough to land that contract at a publishing house, it’s not your editor’s job to teach you how to write. She doesn’t have time for that. The best editors will, however, guide you in what is probably the most appropriate direction for your plot. Pay attention to what she says, the things she points out, and the words whose misspellings she corrects. It’s YOUR job to put that to work in your next manuscript, so you improve your writing.
All that said, even the big houses don’t catch everything. But from these two books, I know which house put more effort into its editing.
Happy reading, happy writing!
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I love this topic. It doesn’t just apply to writers though.
A few years ago, for complicated reasons, I needed a letter from a medical professional who was familiar with me. This letter was to be forwarded to another physician. When I received the letter, it was packed full of horrendous errors. I don’t know what got into me, but suppose that I felt really embarrassed for medical professional number one, so I called her and asked if she would mind if I proofread her letter and sent it back to her.
It did not go well. In fact, it took considerable work to make things right again. I ended up sending an apology note, and taking all the blame upon myself. Maybe the problem really is with me, that I think that it is terrible that anyone could make it through grad school with such writing.
Moral of the story: be careful who you proofread.
Good tip! I tend not to just randomly offer my editing/proofreading services to people. Generally, it’s in the context of publishing, when writers pretty much expect to be edited. Regarding people out in the so-called “real world,” well, that’s a whole other issue! Thanks for coming by.
Grammar Girl has made my grammatical life so much easier. Love the reference! (I never mix up ‘further’ and ‘farther’ anymore! I am such a nerd because that conquering made me quite excited.)
Sweet! Grammar Girl is awesome. I use her tips quite a bit.
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