Oct 2, 2013

Leveraging the Cat

by H. Linn Murphy

It's taken me years to get up the guts to query agents and tout my book. Mostly it's because I generally polish my manuscripts exhaustively for stupid mistakes so I don't look like the authors of a couple of books I just read.

When you as an author birth a book out into the cold hard world, you are not only offering a product for sale, but you represent yourself as an author. Why send your baby from your literary womb half-formed, especially if you know better?

Some time ago I acquired a book from an acquaintance. The author was a stellar person and had worked hard on his book. The back of it proclaimed that it had been edited. I could find no evidence to support such a claim. The manuscript was so riddled with errors that I stopped reading it somewhere in the first chapter. I'm normally a forgiving reader if the story line is good enough, but I simply couldn't finish it.

The problem isn't usually spelling errors, although some people seem not to own a spell check program. It's more of a usage thing. The other day I read this phrase: "She leveraged the cat out the window." I nearly expired, laughing.

True, the word 'leverage' means literally to use a lever. But the character in question wasn't using a lever to launch the cat. It sounded like the cat was the victim of a hostile buy-out. Much better if the author had said: "She catapulted the cat out the window." That would have been something I'd have brought popcorn to watch.

Phrases which don't match up are like continuity errors in movies. (My family likes to spot those. Some of our favorites are in the movie RETURN TO ME.) They launch the reader out of the story and cause them to think about the phrase instead of the story.

Another snippet I read recently is: (She) pulled the splayed dress from around her neck. I don't know about another reader, but the word splayed shoves me into a whole other visual.

Try this one out: Smoke flumed around the spatula.

I'm gone.


  1. Oh Heidi! Those are hilarious examples!!! Thanks for the laughs.

  2. I am speechless. I am also paranoid. I'm wondering how many of these types of errors are in my own writing. They are funny to read about though. My husband once worked with a Dutch client who used to slaughter metaphoric phrases. One day there was an uproar in the office about who knows what. This client came rushing in wanting to know, "What's this storm in a cup?" heeheehee...[of course he meant "Tempest in a teapot."


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