Monday, March 22, 2010

Getting the words right.

Writing a blog is a labour of love and because the blogger is not paid for the words it is no great crime if the blogger misspells words, uses incorrect grammar or makes a jumble of the words within a sentence. I am reading Kat's Keep , a Canadian woman's blog and on the 4th March 2010 she writes a post entitled "A Reader's Rant" . The gist of what NoirKat writes is this...

I first noticed it a few years back; errors popping up in novels. It is a pet peeve of mine. In published books, I expect correct spelling and grammar, at least where it isn't a deliberate use by the author. Take this sentence from “Flirt” by Laurell K Hamilton as an example. “He smiled flashed that brilliant white smile in his tan and left me to my menu.” Say what? My first thought on reading it was, well, that's some crappy writing. But that's the thing, it isn't really. It is really lousy editing.
I've little doubt she meant to use one or the other – smiled/flashed – for that sentence. I suspect when she wrote it, she couldn't decide and simply put both in.

Another example is “The Shimmer” by David Morrell. In the book, Morrell switches between various characters in different chapters. His main character is named Page, but he also tells the story from the perspective of a number of other characters. In one such chapter, he is relating the conversation between two men, neither of them the hero of the piece. But suddenly, there on page 88, one of those characters is now Page. But wait! No, it is not Page. It's just another example of poor editing.

Too much reliance on spell/grammar checker? Was it only ever looked at in digital form and somehow this affects the editing process? I don't know. What I do know is this: every time I read one of these errors in a published work, it bothers me. Often, it ruins a perfectly good scene, throws off the flow of the story. And that really is unfortunate. It does a disservice to the reader, but equally, it fails to properly present the work or the author. Bad editing makes the author seem like a poor writer. Given the costs of books or ebooks, the least we as readers, and frankly authors as well, should expect is a decent job of editing. Surely it is not too much to ask that they, as publishers, provide an error-free product. The pleasure of reading a good book should not be compromised by lousy editing.

...Well, I agree with NoirKat. It is shoddy workmanship when books are spoiled by bad spelling, bad grammar, jumbled words and illogical groupings. I have also put up with errors in books and yes, it does spoil your enjoyment of the novel. Generally books are an authors' day-job and they should get their product right. Also people are employed as proof-readers and editors, they should also be doing their jobs correctly and modifying the text accordingly. I am a tolerant man and simply let these avoidable errors in print go unchallenged. I do spot the mistakes and I am not looking for them, it does spoil the book though. When I write a blog post about a book I have read, I do not list any errors I have spotted in the book. We live in an imperfect world and these errors are a part of life. Okay, there is a problem with the spelling differences between American-English and British-English but once you accept there is no "U" in American colour or humour and they leave "me" off every programme, then you can accept these differences and enjoy your book.

So, do any books spring to mind? Ah yes, two books spring to mind regarding author errors. The Associate by John Grisham and Hold Tight by Harlan Coben .

In The Associate on page 177 when Baxter is talking to Brother Manny it reads...

Brother Manny issued the questions and absorbed the answers with such ease that after fifteen minutes together, Kyle felt as though he could chat for hours and tell him everything.

...Only Kyle was not there!

Hold Tight has 19 major characters but the joy of the story is the sheer diversity of these characters. This is a story of real life across the whole community and not a tiny section of society. Every character is different and has their own special role to play in this story. But it is more than this, Harlan does not tell this tale as A speaks to B and then something happens. Harlan tells the tale from the viewpoint of each character, like using a first-person writing style but he does that with all 19 characters and no character is the lead or hero. The reader then develops an empathy for all 19 characters and even for a minor character who is on his way out for sloppy performance! What this book demonstrates is that Harlan clearly understands people, he knows exactly what makes people tick.

I did not notice any bad spelling, bad grammar, jumbled words or illogical groupings in Hold Tight. Yet Harlan Coben jostles 19 major characters around, writes from their point of view and gets ALL his words right!

What a difference between these two authors as an example. If Harlan Coben and his publishers can get it right, how come other authors and publishers fail so badly? Shoddy workmanship is the culprit and it is not rocket science to get it right, just basic adult literacy.
You highlight one of the annoying aspects of this problem; why do these errors occur only in some authors' works. It illustrates that books CAN be error-free.
Must have a poor copy of the associate Mr Clynes as in my copy on page 177 there is no reference of brother manny whatsoever.........
NoirKat: Thanks for commenting, I am pleased that you did not consider my blog post as plagarism. I agree with you that error-free books can be published and that some authors, like Harlan Coben, have higher standards and professionalism that others.

Matthew: The copy of The Associate I read was published in HARDBACK not PAPERBACK, I did not purchase this book, it was left on the hotel bookshelf by another resident. I think it is bad value to pay extra for a hardback copy of a book, maybe the owner was given this book as a special present or could not wait for it to be released in paperback.
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