In my previous post on the topic of being a crap writer, I looked at ways of identifying those among us who are not literary greats, and how those writers might justify churning out dross. This time, I’m interested in the kinds of basic errors many people seem to make between the title and the first page.
Now, rather than embarrassing anyone by holding up a giant pointy finger and including actual examples from the poor fools who cultivate such boo-boos, I’ll illustrate my points with instances from my own works, modified to show the kinds of blunders I’m talking about.
[NB If you can’t spot the mistakes, maybe you’re one of those poor fools!]
You’d think any author would be able to get the title of their book right, especially as it’s the phrase they most likely see at the top of the page every time they open the file to work on the damn thing!
- The House Tat Wasn’t There
- The Hounds of Hellerby all
Missing or Misplaced Apostrophes
- The House That Wasnt There
- The Hound’s of Hellerby Hall
- The House That Wasn’t Their
- The Hose That Wasn’t There
- The WatsonLetters
- Writing:Ideas and Inspirations
Lack of consistency can be distracting for readers, from interchanging basic titles (Mr/Mister), to using the wrong tense. Also, using the right version of a word particularly applies to made up names and places, as well as common place names. Accents and dialects, where the correct spelling may be uncertain, can also tie you in knots. In my ‘Maps of Time’ series, several characters speak in a version of London cockney:
- “There’s somefing you ain’t tellin me, girlie.”
In an early daft, I discovered I was spelling ‘something’ as somefing, somfing and somfin. Doh.
Keeping your finger off the spell-checker can be just as difficult – in the world of my Watson Letters series (being set in an almost post-Victorian parallel universe) I spell England’s capital city as Londen. Naturally my own spell checker picks this up as an error, so I have to take especial care not to correct it.
This is where an apparently stray word has been dropped in the middle of a sentence, either through overconfidence in a spell checker, poor editing or just being a bit of a divvy:
- “Christie, you surly hasn’t sold pork Mr Morrison a hag-written story?”
(“Christie, you surely haven’t sold poor Mr Morrison a half-written story?”)
- I began to list some as pets of the crimes reported via our fried Estrada.
(I began to list some aspects of the crimes reported via our friend Lestrade.)
And finally, some authors just need to write better – poor sentence structure, repeated words, ill-placed commas etc:
- The murderer’s bodies Lestrade thought had incisions, made in them that made it look like a crazed doctor could, have maybe been responsible he thought for the murders of the victims.
- (Several incisions had been made to the bodies of all the victims, leading Lestrade to believe the murders may have been committed by a crazed doctor.)
This may seem like an extreme example, but it’s nothing like as bad as some of the utter drivel that’s out there.
However perfect we think our work is, it’s always worth taking another look before touching that big Publish button – I find I’ll often notice glitches and inaccuracies in my writing just before that crucial point, and while most of these aren’t blatant blunders, they’re things I should have corrected earlier. Being a good writer means paying attention to the small things, and as Sergeant Phil Esterhaus didn’t used to say:
“Hey, hey, hey – let’s be careful with that detail out there!”