"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Friday, January 6, 2012

5 Red Flags in Writing

No doubt, phrases such as “avoid passive voice,” “be concise,” “omit wordiness,” “write what you know” and “be original” went through your mind after reading the title. While those are all good advice, I’d like to mention five mistakes that can cost you an editor or readers – PERMANENTLY!
1)      Proper Nouns – A person’s name, company name, job/military titles, names of cities etc. should always be recorded accurately, spelled correctly and repeated consistently. Even in fiction writing, you must be careful to spell them the same way each time.
2)      Superlatives – The best, the first, the leading, the smallest, every, all, none etc. are all words that alert readers to absolutes. The writer must be sure they can back this statement up or at the very least, never hint at anything to the contrary. It’s probably best to avoid these altogether.
3)      Math and Numbers – A calculator can help a fact checker find errors when using large sums. However, small mistakes seem to be more common. If the story states a woman worked in the same company for 15 years before quitting at the age of 25, you have a problem. You have just indicated this person began working at the age of ten. For additional tips on mistakes made with numbers, check here.
4)      Time Sensitive Information – A story can go out of date waiting to be published. Phone numbers change, admission prices increase, people leave their jobs, a restaurant changes its menu or business services may no longer be available. Be sure to recheck facts as your publication date draws near.
5)      Tall Tales and Urban Legends – Sometimes an anecdote is simply too dramatic to be true. Tales told and re-told get embellished each time, until they’re no better than fiction. Chances are, somebody knows the real story – a historian, a local official, an eyewitness – and it’s shaky research to simply take someone else’s word. (For a fun example, watch the movie Shattered Glass).
These mistakes can cost you readers, even if they make it past your editor. What other tips do you recommend?


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I once found a big time-line mistake in a book of my own I was editing. Fortunately I noticed it before I sent out the manuscript. Now I keep a timeline in my notes so I keep everything straight.

Beverly Diehl said...

These are the BEST - okay, really good tips. :-)

Blocking/choreography is good to work out, especially if there's action. One friend wrote a scene where the hero & heroine were practically tripping over the bed in a small tower room - yet when the baddies broke down the door, minutes later, the hero was sword-fighting with no mention of the bed being in the way.

Don't have the sun rise and set through the same window.

Anonymous said...

Great reminders, Sylvia! I am guilty of editing my WIP constantly, paying attention to syntax and story. Too often it's easy to overlook these things.

A belated Happy New Year to you and yours! Here's hoping your 2012 voyage is fantastic!

Sylvia Ney said...

Susan - that is a VERY good idea.

Beverly - Great tips. I have a friend who just made the sunrise/sunset mistake in one of her MS. It's funny how we get an idea in our mind, but it always takes a fresh eye to catch our mistakes.

Bryce - I have a hard time turning off my inner editor as well. We just have to push along. Happy New Year to you as well!

Murees Dupè said...

Thank you so much for sharing this information. It is very helpful.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sylvia .. spelling inaccuracies irritate me. But I can quite see all those items you've mentioned ..

.. the thing I notice as I browse blogs is that people are changing their characters' names .. so if they're not thoroughly checked there can be variations through the novel.

Then if the stage is set through the novel that something occurs in the order 1,2,3 ... but for the last coup de grace .. that order is amended - struck me as very strange. I knew it had to change for the story to work - but frustrated me as a reader.

Love your way of setting out the points .. cheers Hilary

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Math is my weakness so I always have to check numbers, like when I say it was 3 weeks ago, and the next chapter the same incident was last week LOL.

shelly said...

I'm sharing this on facebook.

Kittie Howard said...

Great tips, Sylvia. O'Henry made a math error in "Gift of the Magi."

Kiernan said...

Great post! I'm particularly prone to committing the "numbers" error -- it's not until I pause and think about it that I realize that I haven't really done my math!

Barbara said...

Great info, Sylvia - shared with facebook.

Karen S. Elliott said...

I think consistency is KEY. Spelling McKee, then MacKee, then back to McKee. And the age and numbers thing - very big! Great post, well done!