Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Nitpicker and Proud of It

How much impact do typos and other editorial lapses have on your enjoyment of a story? Does your attention snag on them and refuse to let go? Or do you notice them and move on? Some readers claim not even to notice or be bothered by small errors. Such things remind me of floaters in the eyes—you know, those minor imperfections that cause tiny, gnat-like dots to appear in the visual field, a usually harmless phenomenon that some people develop as they age. Most of the time, I don't see them anymore now that I'm used to them. Once in a while, though, they appear while I'm looking at a light surface, especially a page of text, and they're annoying. I can't easily un-see them. Same with copy editing errors. Once they catch my attention, they don't let go.

In Stephen King's new story collection, THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS, I reread some long pieces I'd previously bought in their original e-book editions. One has a blatant continuity error that I'd missed on first reading. (Possibly because I didn't read it in one sitting the first time; also, a disadvantage of e-books is that the reader can't easily flip back to check an earlier page, which I could do in the hardcover.) The title character has blond hair in his first scene and dark hair near the end of the story. (Yes, the context makes it clear that's supposed to be his natural color in both instances.) Once I became aware of that discrepancy, it nagged at me for the rest of the novella.

A certain novel by a very entertaining bestselling author in the steampunk subgenre is riddled with wrong-word errors. "Seen" (the verb form) substitutes for "scene" (the noun). "Pallet" (a pad) is used in place of both "palate" (a part of the mouth) and "palette" (a painter's selection of colors). In one episode, the title of a traditional Baltimore song, "Eat Bertha's Mussels," is consistently rendered as the cannibalistic suggestion, "Eat Bertha's Muscles." I silently fumed throughout the book, "Where was the copy editor?" This novel offers a glaring example of the fact that spellcheck is no substitute for editing.

I'm not bothered so often by punctuation, mainly because the most teeth-grinding mistakes seldom appear in professional fiction. I wince at the omission of the Oxford comma (comma after the last word before the conjunction in a series of three or more), but I know some publishers insist on that omission as part of their house style. While I flinch at missing or superfluous commas (why do many otherwise polished writers insert unnecessary commas between the two halves of compound verbs?), I can force myself to ignore them. I get jerked out of the story only by really ugly constructions such as "Hi George" with no punctuation before the vocative. What bug me most are apostrophe errors. "It's" (contraction) for "its" (possessive) is the worst.

Do copy editing and proofreading errors pull you out of a story? If so, which ones and how badly? As a former proofreader, I can't help noticing them. Actually, I've been that way as long as I can remember, which is one reason I became a proofreader.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. You might just be an INTP type. We love spotting discrepancies.