Skip to main content

Ignorance, Carelessness, and Laziness


I still clearly remember the first grammar error made by an adult that outraged me when I was probably only eight years old or so. My mother had returned to work after a long illness, and my grandmother had moved out of our house, where she was helping to care for me, into her own apartment. I was to be sent to an after-school care centre for the first time in my little life. I already had a grudge against the place, of course, and this pique was cemented by the matron in charge ordering us all to “lay down for a nap”. My small ears had only ever been exposed to “lay” as the past tense of reclining or as the objective form of my mother’s demand that I “Lay the table!” (Also, hens lay eggs. People do not “lay” without an object in the sentence.)

This error falls into the category of Ignorance when made by Civilians (also known as non-writers), and Carelessness when perpetrated by Writers. Certainly, some writers are ignorant of the nuances of Lay versus Lie, but this is such a grating error for me that authors only get a pass from me the first time; once it is pointed out I expect anyone who wants to be a writer to learn this rule and remember it.

Monstera | Pexels

Some authors are ignorant of actual human movement, and, in an attempt to eradicate simple (but effective) verbs such as “walked” and “ran”, have resorted to the utter silliness of characters “trotting” off to fetch an item (seriously: picture it, along with the ridiculous hand positions of a child pretending to be holding horse reins and going “giddy-up” – now that you have that image firmly fixed in your brain you’ll never use it for a meant-to-be-serious adult character). Another is “bustle”, which should only ever be used (sparingly) to describe the busy activity of a large-bodied woman. Young, lean, muscled men do not “bustle”.

Josh Sorenson | Pexels

Another pet peeve that falls into the Carelessness category is overuse of words and phrases in a book. Currently, I’m noticing the phrase “we all” being tossed uselessly into paragraph after paragraph:

The bell rang and we ALL entered the hall and found our seats. The principal arrived and took her place at the lectern and we ALL stood. Suddenly, a strange men entered and we ALL turned to stare at him.

“We all”, in this context, simply draws attention to itself. I’m picturing every student entering, rising, and turning in absolute unison, like robots (which would not be the case – there would be variances and asynchronicity). It also grates in its repetition. The paragraph works perfectly well without any of those “all”s:

The bell rang and we entered the hall and found our seats. The principal arrived and took her place at the lectern and we stood. Suddenly, a strange men entered and we turned to stare at him.

Now the focus is on the few students making up the protagonist’s circle. And that’s *all* we, the readers, need.

Fred | Pexels

Lastly, Laziness. I added this one following a rather annoying holiday read – you know the type: when you’ve finished all the books you brought with you and you pick up a Goodreads-drooled-over mass market paperback (with movie-tie-in cover) on the bookshelf of the holiday house you’ve rented, knowing you’re going to regret it… (Only me?)

This book will remain nameless, given that it was (nearly) a waste of time reading it. Laziness is when an author falls back on tired old plot blah-ness because they simply cannot be bothered to come up with something different. Polly touched on this in her post, as well. In this particular book, we had the set up of a marriage falling apart – communication issues, financial difficulties, a move from the city to the sticks – and what does the author use as the catalyst for the story?

An affair. (Cue eyeroll)

Just once I’d like to read or watch a relationship drama that addresses hard issues, without the characters being able to sweep it off the table with the old “Well, you cheated, so…” chestnut.

So, those are my current peeves and the ones that rose most readily to mind when the topic came up. Do you agree, or disagree?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin (first in the Grounded series). She is the editor of the re-release of Angela Brazil's 1910 book The Nicest Girl in the School. Elle is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography


  1. I agree heartily!! Thank you. Lie/Lay is a particular stickler. I have chickens so remind myself what it is they do!

    1. Indeed, it's a pretty ridiculous image that pops into my head. LOL.

  2. You make such good points, Elle. Something that bothers me in books are odd dialogue tags, such as barked and chortle. The latter especially when it's given to a man. Perhaps even a police officer. Never met one ever who would chortle.

    1. I know what you mean, Maryann. While I think "chortle" is a fun word to say, you're right that very few people actually make a sound that could be called chortling.

  3. Oh, boy. Yes, "trotted off" will stop me in a NY second. Same for a bunch of words that the author substitutes for the words any person would say. Most times when I find myself falling into that moment where I don't want to use a common word, I have to stop myself from overwriting by using a word no one would use. But it means the same thing, I say. Yeah, so what. Who uses it?

    As far as "we all," everyone knows it's "y'all." /s

    1. Ha ha. Because "y'all" is not common here, I find it quite a fun expression and I'm especially fond of using "all y'all" with tongue firmly in cheek.

    2. Well, y'all can get used to it if you try. LOL I find it a bit amusing when it's used in addressing one person. I'm a transplant to Texas, where the word is quite common. Been here most of my life and still can't get used to saying it to one person. A group? Yes ma'am. :-)

    3. Maryann, that's all y'all or all of y'all. It took me years to say it.

  4. Dialogue tags do on occasion inspire a shake of the head and/or the inability to suspend disbelief. Always, however, they interrupt the flow of the read. Whenever possible, allowing the surrounding text to identify the character promotes a mental word picture as well as giving insight into the motives, feelings, background, etc., of the character speaking. That's a win-win when it's done right. :-)

    1. I agree, Linda, unless the action that takes place is forced. Sometimes I know what the writer is doing ... anything to avoid using the word "said."


Post a Comment

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook