By Elaine Viets
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.
– 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’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.
– 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.