Friday, August 27, 2010


Just how important are the mechanical aspects of writing? Most of us have gotten so accustomed to the occasional typo, left out word, or misused word, we automatically read what a sentence should have said and gloss over the electronic errors that are so prevalent in today's communications. However, most of us expect something a little better from books, even though they, too, are victims of our modern dependence on electronic devices. But it is not only copy writing errors that plague large numbers of books, there is a serious shortage of meaningful editing as publishers, especially small, shoe-string publishers, and self-publishing services depend on computers instead of educated, knowledgeable people to prepare manuscripts for publication.

Currently I am reading a novel that makes me want to cry, not because the story is sad, but because it is so poorly presented. There are typos, left out words, and wrong words galore--and this isn't even a self-published book. To be perfectly honest, the characters are great and I can relate to the main characters and feel great sympathy for them. The plot is compelling and fascinating. BUT--and this is a big But--I am struggling to follow the point-of view. Every character's thoughts are revealed and I doubt the author ever heard of the scene/sequel sequence. Paragraphs are thrown in here and there, revealing information only God or the author could possibly know in advance. The book is a technical mess. I can understand the publishers acceptance of the novel on the basis of the plot and characters, but I don't understand why a qualified editor didn't help the author clean up point-of view, sequence, or at least correct misused and misspelled words. I won't mention the title, author, or publisher of the book, but I won't review it either. The saddest thing about this book is that the author has considerable talent for inventing a story, but because of the poor presentation and clumsy structure of the book, he/she will probably receive few royalties and will become discouraged and give up on writing and readers will lose a potentially beloved author.

Anyone who is serious about writing needs to prepare the best manuscript possible. Don't depend on an editor to "fix" it. Most editors are spread too thin, have too heavy a work load, and cannot take the time once allowed for working on a given novel. No matter how much talent someone has in any field, to become the best he or she can be, that person must study and practice. That means for a writer, studying books on grammar, style, and novel structure. There are plenty of books on the market and in public libraries that teach the mechanics of novel writing. And if you didn't pay close enough attention in high school and college English or language courses, there are books that teach grammar and word usage, sentence structure, and parts of speech. Every would-be writer should have a really good dictionary, a big fat unabridged dictionary, not one of those little paperback college editions. A thesaurus is also helpful. The internet can be helpful too. There are all kinds of helpful online resources from dictionaries, style helps, and translations to blogs (such as The Lyons Tale by Annette Lyon) that aids in word and grammar usage and overall writing tips and helps on LDS Publisher. Many published authors and others in the publishing field write regular features on their blogs concerning various aspects of writing. Organizations such as Romance Writers of America, League of Utah Writers, American Night Writers Association, and LDStorymakers are among organizations that offer help to their membership on a regular basis and sponsor conventions and workshops to aid writers. Many colleges and universities also sponsor writing workshops.

In my opinion, the technical side of writing matters a great deal. Is it asking too much to have a great plot, characters I can care about, and a presentation that flows so smoothly it never intrudes on my enjoyment of the story?





Suzanne said...

Jennie, thanks for putting all of that into words. I had a conversation just this morning with a couple of ladies about how kids don't feel they need to worry about correct spelling since they use computers so much. My daughter LOVES to create stories, but has an "I don't care" attitude about spelling. I'm going to show her your post and see if it will "sink in" a little for her.

Gregg said...

Well said, Jennie. I've taught my kids to expand their vocabulary every chance they get. My middle school aged son once used the word "hesitant" in a class, and the girl in front of him turned around and told him to speak English because he was in America. I feel we're spoon-fed too many English grammer mechanics! Spell checks, gammer checks, and the like are useful, but they are no excuse for sloppiness, laziness, and apathy.

Jackie said...

Thanks for the insight. I write as a hobby and it's always good to hear things that could help me improve.

violettes said...

Oh oh oh. This happens WAY too often. The worst offender I've read was "Hattie Big Sky". The story revolved around an orphaned girl inheriting her uncle's homestead claim in Montana. His identity/initials (engraven on his trunk in the shack) CHANGE from time to time throughout the book. In one chapter he may be her mother's brother and in another he is her father's brother. There were some other atrocious errors that killed me. By the end of the book I was DISGUSTED--the story was good but it was just too much to have to overlook.

Michael Knudsen said...

Mechanics matter. Hit a reader with too many glaring errors and that "fourth wall" is destroyed. The author becomes visible and the reader is not amused. It's worth it to work hard to fix the easy errors and use correct form.

Marsha Ward said...

I agree, Jennie, the mechanics do matter. Thank you for the insightful post, and thank you again for mentioning American Night Writers Association (our next writing conference is February 25 and 26, 2011).