Sep 15, 2011

Fresh Eyes

by Susan G. Haws
At different points in the writing process writers need fresh eyes looking over their work. I need someone to look over early drafts to help me identify weak and strong parts of my story, and keep me on track (tangents and I are best buds). Later I need people to find all the typos I made and can't see anymore since I know what I intended to say and my mind compensates for the mistake.

I was reminded of this by a library book recently. One section of the novel a family was referred to by one surname and in the rest of the novel by another. The author changed the name of the family when writing that section and forgot to find and replace the original name or had computer problems and the wrong version was saved.

As writers we labor over a manuscript through multiple drafts for weeks, months, even years and the reader reads it in a day or two or maybe a week or two. I love my spell check. I admit it has become  a crutch. But there are some errors that we writers make that machines can't identify.

Besides changed names, as in my library book, there are times when I have found in my work and books I have purchased when character Fred is said to have done something like walked to the door. But the reader knows Fred is out of town and James is in the room.  The writer knows James is in the room but Fred is a character too so in skimming for mistakes this substitution can be missed.

Over the years as a reader I have also found changes in relationships. The Uncle at the first of the book is a brother at the end of the novel. In my writing I might think I want a nephew  to my main character then change my mind and make it a son. It is only when the sections of the book are combined that the inconsistency is revealed.

Another common mistake I  particularly have to watch for in my writing is a misused but correctly spelled word. I spotted one on the first page of a novel I am looking forward to reading. I suspect that there was a typo in the word and when the author or editor was offered choices to correct the mistake a person clicked on the wrong choice and thus a now correctly spelled but totally inappropriate word was printed.

As writers we rewrite but sometimes remains of earlier wording is left tagged on to the improved sentence or paragraph. Incomplete deletion. Old phrases or words overlooked in proof reading get their revenge for us trying to get rid of them  by making us look bad in the finished product.

I hope I have not made these mistakes in this blog, especially since there were no fresh eyes to preview it. I do make them. I have to say it is comforting to me to see goofs in published works, as it lets me know even experienced authors make mistakes. But this is why I think it is so good to have trusted readers and especially ANWA or other critique/support groups providing fresh eyes to find errors in our manuscripts.

Just curious, what are some of the errors you have found or made yourself?


  1. I think I read that same book where the family had a different name in the second section... Recently I read a book where a character who had said nothing during an entire scene suddenly fell silent. Isn't this what editors are supposed to catch? Beyond a certain point in the process, spelling and grammar checkers are not dependable. I'm still unpublished and when I think of seeing my work in print--having seen so many goofs and typos in other books--I do so with some measure of fear and trepidation. Nobody cares as much about accuracy as the author does, and I know the author is the one who gives the final okay, but you have to depend on others PEOPLE to get you to that point.

  2. I'm reading a book right now that I keep setting down and declaring to my husband, "Who edited this thing? Were they blind? Did ANYONE edit this book?" The mistakes are ridiculous and easy to spot. I'd definitely read over your work and help you edit when you're ready!

  3. I am unpublished yet and echo your concerns Pam.
    Kami, I will take you up on the editing offer.

  4. Ditto on what Pam said! I recently inherited my mom's old Kindle. I am amazed at how many errors there are in the books on it. I wonder, do the hard copies have the same errors?

    I love the stories about President Monson and his eye for details in the printing business. amazing!

  5. My daughter's always finding those funny typos in my 2nd and 3rd drafts, when I've already gone through it and was sure I'd caught them all!

    I was sure Suzanne Collins wrote the first Hunger Games book in past tense, then changed her mind and did a find and replace to change past tense verbs to present, because I caught a couple of instances where something was mistakenly left in past tense - and it wasn't in the sections where Katniss was remembering something in the past. That didn't happen in books 2 and 3, when she was well used to writing in present tense.

    I've even found a couple of mistakes in the Harry Potter series. They're impeccably edited, yet a couple of them slipped through the cracks. You're right, it is comforting - as long as it's not so frequent that it's irritating.

  6. Kristin, good finds on the errors. I also think ah ha this is what the author changed that caused the error. Want to lend me your daughter? (Just kidding.)

    Kari, aren't the Kindle copies the same as the paper copies?

  7. Man, she's good at it. I'd lend her to you, but I'm still on her behind to finish reading my WIP! LOL


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