Thursday, December 5, 2013

When Bad Things Happen to Good Books

By Elaine Viets

Install-A-Laundry-Chute-af

    So there I was reading my favorite blockbuster novelist, a writer with a shelf full of awards, kudos from critiques, a movie and more, when I was stopped by a stupid mistake. The angst-ridden hero tossed his clothes down the laundry shoot.
    Well, chute. What happened to this normally careful and precise author? Where were his editor and copyeditor?
    No, I’m not giving you this writer’s name. These mistakes happen to us all. Keep reading and I’ll tell you how I embarrassed myself in front of three hundred thousand readers.
    Let’s just say that homonyms happen.
    Here are a few common mistakes that make you look like an amateur. And no gloating, please. The next brain freeze could be yours.

 
– It’s bloody embarrassing when mystery writers have police and forensic experts talk about blood splatter. It’s spatter. Get the L out of there.

– Watch those bears. Grizzly murders are cringeworthy, unless the person was killed by a bear. Grizzly is another treacherous homonym.

– Triple threat. “Peaked,” “piqued” and “peeked” give writers three ways to go wrong. How often have you encountered versions of “this peaks my curiosity”? I didn’t want to see it, but I’d already “piqued” at the page and knew I wasn’t getting a “peek” literary experience.
 Heineken_Beer_Bottle
– Twisted. Beer drinkers know that Heineken does not have a twist-off cap, but many writers don’t. Your character needs a church key for those green bottles.  

jack daniels

-- Jack’s possessive. Jack Daniel’s always has an apostrophe. I had a sobering discussion with a copyeditor who wanted to remove the apostrophe, but that’s when hanging around bars paid off. I knew Mr. Daniel was possessive about his Tennessee whiskey.

70_vw_beetle_500-thumb

– How to drive readers crazy: Get car details wrong.  In 1968, hippies did not open the hood of their VW Beetles and check the engine. Beetles back then had rear-mounted, air-cooled engines. Check car details on the Internet.

– All wet. No, you do not “wet” your appetite. You sharpen it. Put that H to work.

-- Lift that bale. No, you don’t tow the line. It’s not a rope. Webster says when you “toe the line” you “conform rigorously to a rule or standard.”

– Watch those foreign words and phrases. When I was a newspaper reporter, I wrote about a waiter who wore “liederhosen” at a German restaurant. Amazing, a reader told me. A man with singing leather pants. I should have had the waiter wearing lederhosen – leather britches.
    That extra “i” made a fool out of me.

lederhosen

62 comments:

  1. This is hilarious. I have to confess, you sent me scurrying to the hive mind about peaked/piqued. I will utterly confess to using "peaked my curiosity," as in "peak" being the high point.

    *pout*

    I run a small newspaper and had to write a style guide on apostrophe usage. And I open up the front page of the website and there is "boy's and girl's basketball team."

    *headdesk*

    I also discovered, get your explosives right. I got taken to school on the differences between incendiaries and concussives by a military dude. And, yes, on cars. I even went and looked up whether the year car I was featuring came with leather seats before I put it in there. Especially vintage cars.

    I've seen "road to hoe" many times. Cliche abuse is rampant and hilarious.

    And, if your book includes fishing, here is a little ditty to remember. You troll for fish if you use a baited line and trawl for fish if you use a net. Say those both real fast a few times.

    Great post!

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    1. LOL! I love the phrase "cliche abuse." So true. Thanks for your entertaining and enlightening comments.

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  2. Oh and you cook on a BBQ grill, but your car has a chrome grille. However, when someone is all "up in your grill," meaning they are in your face, the painfully cliched street spelling is "grill" even though using the car "grille" is more correct. That one hurts.

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    1. Sigh. I've had a bumper crop of grill abuse in my writing.

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  3. I got taken to task by a fellow author/reader for using coiffeur, which means male hairdresser, instead of coiffure, which means hairdo. I hadn't know there was a difference. Live and learn.

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    1. I didn't know that, either, Nancy. Seems like we always learn the hard way.

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  4. Fun post. I would've blown the Jack Daniel's thing. A good copy editor is invaluable.

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    1. Forgot to mention one of my mistakes that my CE caught. Straitjacket. I had been feverishly writing and used "straight jacket" which spellchecker wouldn't catch. I didn't even catch it through all my rounds of edits, but I won't make the mistake again. (The value of a mistake.)

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    2. Copy editors often save my bacon. I have a habit of having my characters drive some place and then walk home. The CE lets me know that there's an abandonded car in my novel.

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  5. Great post. I read in a bestseller I am reading, " At sixty-one years old". Shouldn't it be, "At sixty one" or " At sixty one years of age"? Better still, 61 instead of sixty-one? Also elsewhere "FBI Officer". Isn't "FBI Agent" more appropriate?

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    1. FBI agent is correct. So is sixty one years old -- it is awkward. Novels spell out all numbers unless they are big numbers -- 345,895 would not be spelled out.

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  6. I confess to using "skewered" when I should have used "skewed". There are more, but I'm pulling a Rob Ford and refusing to acknowledge them.

    Great post, funny and educational. What's not to love.

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    1. Go thou and sin no more, Amanda. Your secrets are safe with TKZ.

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  7. How about this POV issue from a veteran writer: "I didn't notice Mr.___ reach into the jacket of his mortician's suit, bring out a walkie-talkie, and speak into it briefly."

    I think editors get as caught up in our stories as we do and end up not catching the mistakes. Blessings!

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    1. I like to think they're caught up in the story, too, Charmaine. But I suspect they're really swamped with work. I'm just grateful they catch the errors they do.

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    2. That's a good one! I had something similar to that recently in a story I am working on. Luckily I caught it and fixed it! ~ Marie Black

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  8. Great list, Elaine. And spell check won't help if it's a real word. The ones I have to think a bit harder about each time I use them: affect and effect.

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    1. Joe, my little trick for those two is "affect" (the verb) starts with an "a", like "action." So that leaves "effect" as the noun.

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    2. My husband Don, an English major and reporter, says, "An effect has an affect." It doesn't help.

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  9. Great list, Elaine! I could add lots more examples from my editing! Maybe I'll drop back later and add a few. One thing that frustrated me recently when editing the first chapters only for someone: they put in an apostrophe for plurals, as in "there were lots of dog's and cat's in the shelter" (I made up the example.) I took out the apostrophes and wrote a comment in the margin, "no apostrophe for plural", and when I got the chapters back for my second run-through, the author had put them back in!! WTH? Why hire a copy editor if you don't think they know their grammar and spelling?

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    1. GAH! At the newspaper I saw a front page of a very small paper for another town that we put out and the layout person had used the word it's twice in the headline, wrong, both times. In a meeting I told the team that headline was the stuff of Facebook memes. Next week, "the boy's and girl's tennis team."

      And Jodie, if they do that, they deserve the scorn they are going to reap when they self-publish.

      Terri

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    2. Don't get me started on apostrophe abuse . . .

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    3. Terri, the problem is that often my name appears as editor or copy editor, and that can be embarrassing if an author has reverted back to incorrect usage or rejected my suggestions re logistics errors or plot holes because it's too much work to fix/rewrite content or continuity errors.

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  10. I'm inclined to give writers a pass, especially if i know they know better; we all miss stuff. (Inclined; the pass is not absolute.) The writer has other things on her mind, such as story, characters, style, voice, etc. Mistakes happen.

    This is all on the copy editor, or the lack thereof. They have little else to worry about that to make sure things like this are correct. (I have a good friend who is a copy editor, and I think he'd agree.)

    What's depressing is when things like this show up in books from major publishers, who we know have the staff to handle it. It's happening more and more, and gives me the feeling they care little for the quality of their product.

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    1. Dana, I'm thinking major publishers are a bit like newspapers in that they're cutting back on the editing budgets...

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    2. I'm with Jodie on this issue, Dana. Many major publishers hire freelance CEs, and the quality varies. Many are first rate. A few are not. One mixed up mantel and mantle.

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  11. I saw a huge logistics gaffe in a NYT bestselling book recently. Just did not make sense! The author should have thought that one through, and the content editor should have caught it.

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  12. Here's a common mistake: The shoes complimented the outfit. It should be "complemented."

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    1. It was very nice of the shoes to tell the outfit it looked attractive. Proved they had soul.

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    2. LOL! :-) You're so witty, Elaine!

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  13. I just finished a prolific mystery writer's book last night (he now has a co-author and I suspect she does most of the work) and was happy to see the number of errors--happy because he's (they're) backed by one of the Big Five (Four? Three?). I'm thinking maybe many copy editors from the big publishing houses are looking for work?
    Charmaine, I think POV is more a content editing issue--do editors even bother with it nowadays? I've heard some say, "Oh, that's just omniscient, so let it slide--it's his style."
    All that said, I have a question I'd like you all to tackle (ladies, pardon the sports metaphor): Why is it that we (generic we, but I'm included) tend to make more copy editing mistakes with words that sound alike? Maybe someone with a good background in psychology can explain this to me. Even though we write, does speech dominate our brain defaults?
    Great thread, by the way...fun, too.
    r/Steve

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    1. No psychology background, but my theory is we're becoming an acoustic culture. I noticed when I had a TV show that television reporters were more like to make these mistakes, because they hear the words more than they write them.

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  14. I called a car an Ultima instead of Altima. Fortunately someone reading an ARC caught it and it got changed. I'd asked my husband for a name of a car and that' what it sounded like he said. He now pointes out all the Altimas on the road.

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    1. Ultima sounds like a pretty cool car though.....drive fast or the world will end!

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    2. Right behind you with that one. Beep-Beep!

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  15. One of my pet peeves is "comprise" and "compose." I used to make the mistake of using "comprised of" until I read somewhere that you can replace "comprise" with "embrace" to see how it works in the sentence.

    But one of my biggest long-time fears has been writing "pubic" instead of "public." A spellchecker won't catch that. Alas, I finally made that mistake just recently in a statewide newsletter I write. In a headline, no less. Fortunately, no one who pointed it out was offended but I did get razzed.

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    1. The P-word is the terror of newspaper reporters, too, Eric. And how many authors have seen a notice for their book singing?

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  16. This is a hoot...makes me want to go back to earlier books and see all the mistakes I probably made. My pet peeve..(or maybe they're both right) characters who "home in" on something instead of "hone in." Loved the shoes having soul. BTW I'm guilty of bracket abuse (sort of, like a tennis player?)

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    1. Rosemary, "home in" is actually correct for that usage. You "hone" your skills but "home in" on something.

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  17. I think brackets are quite decorative and love to sprinkle elipses through my novels.

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  18. I once had a character look for dog food in the panty. I want to ask Jodie, though isn't "reverted back" considered redundant?

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  19. And remember, Jack Daniel's is not bourbon

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  20. I once had a debate with a colleague about a phrase I used, "cut the mustard" and she promptly corrected me and told me the phrase I should have used was, "cut the muster". Any thoughts?

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  21. It's "cut the mustard," Diane. Your friend may have been confused by "pass muster."
    Another example of cliche abuse.

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  22. Elaine--You will now be known as the Princess of Pain. My latest blunder involved a character in my mystery, The Anything Goes Girl. Struck on the back with a tire iron, she suffers what I called a broken kidney. Gently but firmly, one of my reviewers explained to me that my character had actually suffered a ruptured kidney. That the reviewer had herself suffered this misery made my shame all the greater. I bought her lunch. It was the least I could do for someone with just one un-ruptured you-know-what.

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    1. Ouch, Barry. A punch in the kidney can be extremely painful.

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  23. Interesting examples.
    I once came across a best-selling author who claimed the character had the safety on her "revolver." :-)

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  24. Another mistake I see a lot is whether to use "and me" or "and I". (object or subject) For example, is it, "He sat beside Chris and me." or "He sat beside Chris and I"? Is it, "Tony and me are going with you." or "Tony and I are going with you."? A quick way that always works is to just take out the other person/people named. Would you use "He sat beside I"? No. Would you say "Me am going with you." No. Go with what's correct when on its own. Same with "and him/her/them/us" vs. "He/she/they/we and..." etc.

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  25. Well, you sure no (jk) how to spark the comments. Love the graphics, too! :)

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  26. Looks like our readers have a lot of pet peeves. Now I'm really dreading getting the CE version of CATNAPPED!, my May mystery. What undiscovered mistakes are lurking in those pages?

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  27. Deer Author,

    I enjoyed meeting ewe at you’re book singing, I came with my made who is a compete fan of yores. She sed I must complement you on your choice of locals.

    You have a wanderful friendly personality as evidenced bye all those pubic smiles, shakes, and even hugs you shared with strangers. You seam to have a talent for touching people in pubic that makes it the climax of a lifetime. For instance as you were packing up to go two pretty young sisters came in only too learn, much two they’re constipation, that they’d missed the singing. Butt you gave them a powerfully energenic three-way pubic hug that left them breathless with your firm grasp of their desire’s.

    As it reigned outside, they stood in under wear the tall decorative plants kept you protractively close and you put your arms all over them saving them from the ailments. All of you like that, warm and cozy, inside their under wear you could affectively effect they’re effection’s in a physically touching way.

    I stood their griping my newly singed addition of you’re latest navel, watching in aw you’re menny gentle ax of pubic kindness. I nearly spilled coffee on my khaki docker’s as the scene had me peaked, exited at witnessing the tender stroking of their needy soles.

    I was truly empressed. I think it'd be grate to put two gather your talent for pubic appearances, your general willingness to touch other people, and your wonderfully deffective energy at book singings by staging what I wood caul “A Touching Pubic Singing” with other fallow authors, many of whom I am certain would come with their spouses and significant udders.

    Wee, that is my made and me, are egg cited to have mitt yew, and are looking four word to meating you again in neer few sure.

    Sinsinclty,

    Literally Reeder


    creativity...like nativity but cretan

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    1. LOL! We can always count on Basil to make us laugh! :-)

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    2. Deer Reeder,
      I was deeply touched by you're admiration, but not so pubic next time.

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    3. Basil-- ewe have kreeped me out toetily.

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    4. Oh...dang it...I just noticed a misspelling!

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