Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Editing: Does it REALLY matter??

Spell checkers and other editing things.

Love them or hate them, they are helpful and useful tools. In fact, I recommend every writer have Spell Check turned on at all times. In MSWord, that little red line will help you catch misspellings immediately. Then there's the blue line to alert you to the wrong spelling, or possibly the wrong word—also a useful tool. The green grammar lines? Those I tend to ignore since fiction writing takes some liberties with proper English.


Yeah, you knew that was coming. However. These built-in tools in super-smart word processing programs do not take the place of the human eye and, I hope, human intelligence.

After the program has done its best to help is when a really sharp-eyed editor or beta reader comes in. Someone who can catch the things your MSWord program and tired eyes won’t. There, their, and they’re all sound the same with very different meanings. She’s and she’d are very easy to mix up with the “s” and “d” keys being side by side. I see loose and lose mixed up more times than I care to mention. Your program won’t flag any of the above as misspelled.

Same with roll and role. “He acted out his roll with finesse and skill.” Does this mean he knew how to play a bit of bread? (Ha! Word just tried to correct the word for me. I set it straight.) I suppose it could mean he did a perfect job of rolling down the hill, across the floor, into bed… but in the context of the story, this was not the meaning.

I recently found this sentence in a published book: “He drew in a shaky breath, tried to recall if this was how he felt about her first kiss as a green lad of fourteen.” One word. Just one word is out of place here and makes the sentence ludicrous. Yet to a spell checker program everything is just hunky dory. Had that been the only instance of an error, I probably would have blown it off. Sadly, it was one of at least half a dozen errors that leaped off the page and threw me out of an otherwise entertaining story.

Of course, I’ve seen the spell checker do harm by trying to correct a word here and there. A badly spelled word can be switched in the blink of an eye. Back in the day when I edited technical reports for scientists, I caught one trying to marinate a laser. He’d tried to type “maintain” but mangled it so badly MSWord changed the word to “marinate.” I learned to read his reports very closely.

The key here is editing. Careful, thoughtful, intelligent human editing. A good edit will catch these little goofs that can cause an author’s intelligence and education to be called into question. Yes, typos will at some point escape everyone. It happens. I’ve seen it in NYT bestseller books. If there are no more than two per novel, those are easily shrugged off. More than that? Well, that’s where credibility begins to be called into question.

Years ago, two or three at least, I was reading a book released by my then publisher (the book was not mine, thankfully) and was horrified to see that consistently throughout the book, barely (Merriam Webster Definition of BARELY 1: in a meager manner : plainly 2: scarcely, hardly) was consistently replaced with barley. (BARLEY: a cereal grass.)


Sutton Fox said...

Backwards usually works, although I haven't tried out loud and backwards. Hmmmm.

Great post. Made me stop and think about how much editing really does matter.


LizbethSelvig said...

Ahh, the post turned out very well! Great subject, of course. You know me--not one to ever poo-poo good editing :-) I love, cherish, treasure and worship my beta readers' eyes and, on the other hand, I'm probably one my CPs curse--but, bottom line, you are so right m'dear, good editing rules!!

Tamera Lynn said...

Writing - one of the few areas that cannot be automated, no matter how much the computer thinks it know better than you do! Loved the blog!

Morgan O'Reilly said...

Thanks for chiming in ladies! So good to hear from you all.

Now you know some of my editing hot spots, what are yours?

amy kennedy said...

My problem? Loooooong sentences, with many commas. I always thought I did well in sentence structure and grammer in school. And yet, I re-read my pages and know I need help.

Ericka Scott said...

When possible, I read it out loud. Am considering buying a program to read my docs out loud to me...I think that would be even better, so I couldn't read over anything.

When editing for simple grammar, spelling, and sentence comprehension, reading the document backward, line by line, does it for me. That way, I can't read content into the sentence.

DeNise said...

Love this post--everything you said is too true. I've added backward reading. Now, I must ask, --I expect you meant to say novels sold world-wide not world-side. Was that a test?

Lynn Lovegreen said...

I love the guy who marinated a laser, great image! I've done all the tips listed, and they are very helpful. The biggest one for me is time--set it aside and let it rest when you're read the same thing a hundred times. When enough time has gone by, I pick it up again and wonder how I could possibly have missed so many mistakes. And I (hopefully) fix most of them before I show them to my critique partners, so they won't be so annoyed by having to make so many corrections.

Morgan O'Reilly said...

DeNise, you caught me! I'd love to say it was a test, but then my nose would grow an inch or two. However, you proved my point, the more eyes that proof, the better your document!