Articles / On Editing

What Stops Me In My Tracks When I’m Reading?

As I’ve said before, I read a lot. Not nearly as much as I’d like—and much of what I read is unpublished manuscripts—but there is little that makes me happier than relaxing with a book that whisks me away to an exciting new world, a future time, or a distant land. You see, the life of an editor can be, well, not very exciting, to be honest. So I depend on a well-written book to capture my attention, make me feel the characters and the story line, and help me forget about editing for a while.

Turning off the editor isn’t always easy, but the better the book, obviously the easier it is. And once I’m emotionally attached to a story line or a character, I’ll consciously skip over oddly worded phrases or misused commas without missing a beat.

But there are some pet peeves that will halt my reading every time. And as we all know, you never want your reader to stop and go, “Huh?” when she’s reading. It’s like throwing a bad commercial right in the middle of a really good movie. Your reader is pulled out of the story and loses focus.

So here are a few things that stop me in my tracks:

Dangling participles. You know the ones I mean. “Walking along the beach, the dolphins frolicked for our amusement.” Yep. Dolphins is the only subject of that sentence. Walking along the beach is a participial phrase. Participial phrases should modify the subject of the sentence. And since dolphins can’t walk along the beach, the participle just hangs out, hoping for a proper subject to attach to.

You know what’s worse than simple dangling participles? Paragraphs that open with a dangling participle. And even worse than that? When it’s the very first line of a book. No, I’m not kidding. It’s hard to keep going after that without subconsciously flagging every other grammatical mistake in the book.

Idioms used incorrectly or phrased incorrectly. What do I mean? For example, I used the idiom “without missing a beat” in my second paragraph to indicate that I did not hesitate or falter in my reading but continued without stopping. But when an idiom is misused or phrased wrong, such as “for all intensive purposes,” “I gave her free reign,” or the ever-popular “I could care less,” in a book I’m reading, the editor in me says, “Stop.” The point of using these phrases is to convey a message to the reader. But if an author doesn’t grasp the meaning of the phrase, he shouldn’t use it. As an editor, it’s my job to help my authors understand these phrases so they can use them all properly. So, to use these phrases correctly: For all intents and purposes, I give Divas Janine and Lauren free rein to edit any and all of my articles. I couldn’t care less about what changes they make because they are awesome editors.

Homophones.  This pet peeve goes hand in hand with incorrectly used phrases—just on a smaller level. There’s nothing like reading a great book about flesh-eating zombies who rise and become animated after dark only to learn they attack a campsite in a massive hoard. No. When a character is waiting with baited breath, I wonder what kind of bait he’s using. And if a hiker talks of how she once lead groups as a tour guide, images of mechanical pencils torment me. A well-trained editor will catch those errors. Hopefully, you’ve never had to wait with bated breath while the head zombie led his horde on a brains-eating spree.

Glaring inconsistencies and plot holes.  I’m definitely the kind of reader who can stumble across a minor plot inconsistency and give the author the benefit of the doubt, thinking, “Okay, maybe the character went back and changed her mind. Probably wasn’t important enough to mention.” But when major inconsistencies and plot holes occur, I have to stop and go back to make sure I’m not losing my mind. If Mary explains that her mother died ten years ago but then discusses her recent funeral, that’s a hand-raiser. A character who doesn’t work and shows no form of income—including rich parents—shouldn’t have unlimited spending money, live in a ginormous apartment, or wear fancy designer clothes. That kind of thing isn’t necessarily blatant, but it seeps in as I’m reading and makes me go, “Wait… b-but…”

Timing is also something I’ll notice. A normal human gestation is nine months, it takes X amount of time to recover from surgery, you can’t walk Uptown from Greenwich Village in ten minutes. That sort of thing will pull me right out of a story because my detail-oriented brain will have to figure out the exact amount of time that is being misrepresented. And that kinda sucks considering I’m trying to escape my detail-oriented brain in the first place.

The commonality among these pet peeves of mine is that they’re able to be corrected through the editing process. Between content editing, copy editing and proofreading, editors will catch inconsistencies and plot holes, issues with grammar and phrasing, spelling, punctuation—just to name a few.

So make sure a good editor/editing process is part of the plan for your book. It’s as important as cover creation, marketing, and formatting.

Happy writing!


Comments

  1. Can I just say that hearing someone say they could care less makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up? A woman I work with said she couldn’t care less about something the other day, and I almost hugged her.

    How about this one for an inconstancy: An otherwise good book I read recently, which I won’t name, was set in New York City in 1911. Both the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan and the Dreamland fire in Coney Island were worked into the plot and nicely handled. However, at one point the narrator reflects on the Spanish Flu epidemic, which didn’t happen until seven years after the year the book was set in. I had to read the paragraph a few times because I thought I had to be mistaken. Threw me right out of the world the author had created.

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