Editor’s Geeble for Issue #127
One of the downsides of writing or editing professionally is that it becomes very difficult to read for pleasure alone. That little nagging voice that critiques an author’s technical errors won’t shut up and let me enjoy the actual story.
Some writing errors are subtler than others. These are the ones you’ll see crop up even in bestsellers, because many authors/editors are so used to seeing them that they don’t leap off the page as being wrong the way misspellings or more obvious errors do.
Here are a few of the sneakier mistakes that even experienced writers make.
INDEPENDENT BODY PARTS
This one is top of mind because I keep stumbling across it in a book I’m reading right now (no, I won’t name it beyond mentioning it’s a bestselling fantasy). The protagonist keeps observing things like My forehead wrinkled deeply and My hand patted his leg. Maybe her body parts are doing these things, but they aren’t taking these actions by themselves (it’s not that kind of fantasy). Instead, she should wrinkle her forehead or pat his leg — controlling the actions rather than her body parts seemingly acting of their own accord.
Ah, adverbs. Their use is almost as hotly debated as the Oxford comma’s. Some authors refuse to use them at all while others can’t type a said without a word ending in -ly hot on its heels. The biggest problem I have with adverbs is when they’re not needed, because the author already conveyed the emotion behind a character’s words successfully. In a sentence like “I hate your stupid face,” Molly said angrily, the adverb doesn’t tell the reader anything they couldn’t already figure out. However, “I hate your stupid face,” Molly said enticingly tells the reader something (about the character and/or her situation) the words alone wouldn’t normally convey.
Admittedly, this is more of a style than grammatical issue, but still problematic. Some mixed metaphors are more obvious, and hilariously so (e.g., I’m sweating like a bullet. No. No, you’re not). Others aren’t as readily apparent, but just as incorrect when used. While subtle occurrences might flit past readers who don’t catch that an X can’t Y, they should still be avoided. An example would be The thundering of horses’ hooves drenched the battlefield (thunder doesn’t drench).
What are your pet grammatical or stylistic peeves? Tell us on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/spaceandtimemagazine/) or Twitter (@SpaceandTimeMag) account!