Santa is busy checking his list, making sure he has everything right. He certainly doesn’t want to give the wrong gift to a child.
What Santa is doing is similar to what a writer must do before considering a manuscript ready for publication. (It’s what I’m doing with my work in process.) Before Santa takes off for his long night journey he makes sure everything in his sled is where it should be and as it should be. Before I send this story out, I want to make sure I’ve cleaned up all typos, spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and unnecessary repetitions. I also want to be sure the details are accurate and there are no inconsistencies.
Back years ago, when I started writing, I printed everything out and used a red pen to make corrections. I didn’t feel a ms was ready to submit until I saw a minimum of red on the pages. Nowadays, I do my editing on screen, so it’s not as obvious to me that I’ve caught most of my errors. I say most because catching every error is almost impossible. Our eyes and minds like to play tricks on us. We see—or don’t see—what we expect, not necessary what’s actually there. Even when I writer goes over a ms, followed by a line editor going over the ms, and finally a copy editor, mistakes occur.
Recently a writer told me he chose self-publication because he was tired of finding so many errors in traditionally published books. I purchased a copy of his book, and I’m about 20% into the story…and I’m finding errors. Nothing big, but they are there: the simply typos and missing words.
As I go through my ms, I want to make sure I have all the details correct. If a man puts something in his right pocket, I don’t want him pulling it out of his left pocket. If a character’s eyes are blue in the beginning of the story, I don’t want them turning brown or green by the end of the story.
When I critique other writers’ mss, it’s the accuracy (or lack of) I often comment on. If it’s dark out, would the heroine be able to tell what color eyes the villain had? If a man is shooting a revolver, how can he click off the safety? (Revolvers don’t have one.) And if a victim is prone on the ground, how can the detective see what’s written on the victim’s chest (unless the detective turns the victim over).
Consistency is important. If a character in the beginning of the story has an accent, he should still have that accent by the end (unless it’s a Pygmalion story). If the heroine is always using a cell phone in the beginning of the story, she needs to either have one available in the end, when she needs to call for help, or a plausible reason needs to be given why she wouldn’t have one. And if an interesting character is introduced at the beginning of the story, that character shouldn’t simply disappear, never to be mentioned again. There needs to be some resolution as to why the person was included in the first place.
Even though we writers may not be able to produce absolutely perfect mss, and publishers may continue to produce books with errors in them, I feel we need to be as accurate as possibly. Which means—I need to read through my wip one more time.
There won’t be a blog on this site next week. I’ll be next door stuffing myself with turkey and all the trimmings. As for New Year’s Day, we’ll see. It will probably depend on how many drinks I consume the night before. A list of resolutions might be a worthwhile endeavor. Number one, as usual, will be to lose weight. Number two might be to drink less. ☺
And for those who have heard me talk about my “Old Lady” book…A KILLER PAST has found a home. More on that later.