I think we’ve all laughed along with the t-shirt motto: I’m Secretly Correcting Your Grammar. And nodded because, yes, we are. We each have our own particular misuse or phrase that acts like fingernails on a blackboard. For me it’s Who/Which/That. I find myself inserting “Who” for “That” while following a conversation, or listening to a television news personality.
We can also be distracted by titles or weak plot points. Most recently I remember a title referring to the hero as soldier coming home. Lovely thoughts. Except this particular hero was a Navy SEAL, as in SAILOR. Somehow this faux pas made it past multiple editors as well as an author who has in the past shown excellent military knowledge.
Maybe we’ve become experts at catching plot anomalies such as horses changing color (or their riders shifting from in the saddle to on the ground to in the saddle without ever actually mounting or dismounting) I remember one love scene where the hero unbuttoned the heroine’s blouse then removed her dress…guess she really wanted to cover up.
Sometimes that editor doesn’t even show up when we first read or hear something that will one day bother us. I’m thinking about “Sound of Music” which I saw when it came out at the drive-in theatre (remember those?) and subsequently wore out the sound track on my record player. Sometimes while I’m gardening or working with the dogs, I’ll break out into show tunes, since there’s no one around to hear me. I was singing “(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria,” trying to sing all parts myself since the dogs aren’t great at following a tune.
“She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee. Her dress has got a tear. She waltzes on the way to mass and whistles on the stair. And underneath her wimple she has curlers in her hair. I’ve even…” Wait a minute? Curlers in her hair? For a young woman from a small village who intends to be a nun? Where would she buy curlers and why would she spend her money in that fashion? For that matter, if she’s a novitiate, wearing a wimple, she’s not going to have enough hair to wear curlers. Certainly Julie Andrews wasn’t showing off flowing locks of hair in the movie.
Minor? Perhaps, in this instance. After all the movie, the music, the story all combined to enchant us to such an extent we probably wouldn’t question the curlers. I certainly didn’t until, well let’s see, Sound of Music came out in 1959 and it’s…ahem. Well, anyway…
We’d all like to hope our characters are so compelling readers will ignore minor editing issues. Except what’s minor when it comes to editing? A character who despises coffee in the first chapter and is swilling down espressos in the second half of the book, with no logical explanation for the change in taste. Although come to think of it, that is an interesting plot point. Hmmmm
Sorry for the digression, must be too much coffee. Or maybe not enough? Of course we’d rather be known for scintillating dialogue and compelling characters instead of unintended humor due to poor editing. And we really don’t want to dump a confusing mess on our editors, especially if we want to keep sending them books.
This problem has many solutions including beta readers, critique partners, and people you pay to give your book a cold read. Just be sure whoever has input on your story cares enough about you to be brutally honest when necessary. Better them than someone reading your story after publication.
Monica Stoner w/a Mona Karel