Okay, maybe I’m too picky when I read. My husband keeps telling me to quit reading like an editor and just read to enjoy the book. And sometimes that works. Sometimes I do get so caught up in the plot or with the characters that I overlook little mistakes that would otherwise jerk me out of the story.
But when I first start a book and haven’t yet connected to the character or the plot, those little mistakes keep prickling me like the thorns on my blackberry bushes.
For instance, we really have to stop and think about the words we are using and what they mean or convey, especially the misuse of reflexive pronouns. “I smiled in spite of myself.” What exactly does that mean? Perhaps it would be better to write, “I smiled, despite my glum mood.”
Inappropriate sensory descriptions can also be a problem. “My own voice sounded dank…” Dank is a smell. It can’t be heard.
“Soft-smelling hair.” Soft is a touch, not an odor.
A common dialogue attributive is also problematic. Authors often have a character mutter to himself, which to me implies that it is not something the other people in the scene heard, even though the muttered dialogue is written out in full. But if the character simply mutters, leaving off the “to himself” it is more believable that the other people could hear it. And when the narrative is in first person, it is especially important to make sure it is believable that the narrator can hear the other person mutter.
I know these are silly little details, and we all see them over and over in published works, but I don’t think that is a good enough reason not to take a little extra care with what we write. Well, actually rewrite. Because it is in the editing and rewriting that we find these little mistakes and fix them.
Maryann Miller is the Managing Editor of WinnsboroToday.com, an online community magazine, and a reviewer for Bloggernews.net and ForeWord Magazine. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.