I was asked today, “What are your biggest editing pet peeves?” Immediately, I thought of a myriad of things. But when I really got to thinking about it, there are just a few things I find grating, which can be addressed beforehand by authors. The simplest mistakes an author will make are the most common and ultimately very annoying and redundant for editors. Not that we would tell our authors that. Most of the time authors either aren’t aware they are doing it or just simply skip proofreading their work. Editors shouldn’t hold that against authors in any way. The idea is to teach and have them learn.
I’m going to point out the simplest mistakes, which are the easiest to fix before you publish your book or turn it over to an editor. I promise *authors, I’m looking at you* that this will only help your chances to get published. Many of these pet peeves are must haves in editing, some are subjective, but all will help your writing in the end.
- To many ssssss. There is no S at the end of toward, backward, onward, forward, any ‘ward’ word you can think of. If you are using American grammar, the S is always dropped. If you are writing in British or English grammar, you can leave it in. They like adding letters to words over there.
- Punctuating dialogue correctly. For example, wrong dialogue punctuation looks like this: “Frank has a big book.” Said Millie. Correct dialogue punctuation: “Frank has a big book, ” said Millie. Any vocal action coming from the mouth in any tense (said, says, told, whispered, replied, replies, murmured, etc) should always be punctuated with a comma, not a period, which then continues the sentence. A period is only used when there is a physical action describing the dialogue. For example: “Frank has a big book.” Millie pointed toward Frank’s bag.
- Overuse of idioms. The definition of idiom is: A speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements. Some great example of idioms, if you’re still not sure what they are, can be found on IdiomSite.com.
- Commonly misspelled words. Richard Nordquist wrote a nice list of some commonly misspelled words here. My personal favorite misspelled word would be good-bye. Everyone forgets the hyphen (goodbye). These don’t however include British spellings that American writers mistake for American spellings. Those crazy English like to use extra Us and Ls and replace Zs with Ss. Don’t they know they are so wrong? (This is very tongue in cheek, mind you.) The Oxford Dictionary put together a list writers can use as reference here.
- Disembodied motion. A lot of disembodied motion or action can be viewed as acceptable from author to author and their writing styles. But a general rule of thumb for editors is to take each instance into consideration. If, for example, an author is writing primarily erotica, then more disembodied action is allowed, but still limited to avoid saturating the book. Usually in erotica, disembodied action or motion is used in the love scenes more prominently. Authors need to be aware of the dreaded zombie body parts taking over scenes. A great article entitled Night of the Living Syntax: Disembodied Action
by Craig Clevenger can help put this into better perspective.
- Overuse or underuse of commas. There are a bunch of rules on comma usage. My best advice is to study up, folks. This is a great article from the New York Times by Ben Yagoda here.
- Homophones. These are easy to spot for editors but hard for authors—unless they are scanning their manuscripts line by line, they are using spell check and spell check isn’t going to find homophones. Common examples of homophones are: to/two/too, there/their/they’re, your/you’re, four/for/fore, and so on. Here is a nice list by EnglishClub.com
- Creative Dialogue Tags. Again, this can be subjective, and an author can claim that creative dialogue tags are stylistic. In my editing eyes, it’s a big fat no. Some examples of creative dialogue tags are: joked, pointed, pouted, snarled, etc. To me, creative dialogue tags tell the reader how the character is acting, they don’t show the reader. Jen Matera, my Write Diva partner, wrote this nice article all about creative dialogue tags. Check it out here!
All of these examples are more technical than creative. I’ll get into that another time. *insert evil laugh* All of these mistakes are easy to overcome. Knowing what to look for is half the battle.