Competent writing shouldn’t be rare.

You know what’s kinda sad? Reading a novel and having the initial reaction of, Ohmigod, this book is AMAZING — it isn’t chock-full of blatant grammatical errors or silly punctuation mistakes!

It shouldn’t stand out; it shouldn’t be rare. It should be commonplace for a novel not to have multiple errors on every fucking page. Basic competence on the part of the author should not be sufficient to make the reader happy-dance over having picked up a book that is actually, y’know, readable.

Mind you, the novel I’m reading now is competently written — and also a damn good story with interesting characters and a fascinating setting. So was the book I read right before this one. (I don’t know how I got so lucky.) However, as I’ve said before, if the writing is such a mess that the reader can’t even find the plot and the characters and the setting, the Bestest Story Idea in the World doesn’t mean a thing.

Last week I read a darkly whimsical story about dead people on a quest. Now I’m reading a novel about dead gods, a murder, and stairs going nowhere. (Honestly, that one had me at stairs going nowhere; I’ve always liked that particular imagery.) I’m a happy reader… and also a sad reader, because books like these — good writing and good story — aren’t nearly as common as they ought to be.

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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8 Responses to Competent writing shouldn’t be rare.

  1. nrlymrtl says:

    Very true. However, since I moved to nearly 100% audiobooks, I don’t notice the grammatical errors or typos much. I do notice plot holes and failure to develop characters quite a bit tho.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Competent writing should be the norm.

    Unfortunately, some people just can’t seem to learn to spell. They should know this by the time they are grownups, and not publish until they’ve had someone who CAN spell correct the more egregious misspellings (all of them would be better).

    I once read a book I liked very much, but every time the writer meant ‘belonging to it,’ he wrote IT’S – and it nearly drove me crazy. NOBODY caught that before he published? It was ten times a page that I had to stop, wonder why the sentence with ‘IT IS’ made no sense, and reframe the meaning.

    Most people don’t care, and won’t notice the ignorances and the little typos. But some of us DO care, and we care a LOT – and we are disproportionately represented in the ranks of people who complain about things in WRITING (such as in reviews).

    In olden and golden days (which may not have actually existed), line editors and copy editors fixed this kind of problem. If the storytelling was otherwise acceptable, the readers didn’t have to find out about it. Now, readers just judge the writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t forget the compositor. Push-button publishing has done away with him. His was the last set of eyes on the old manuscripts, and he was reading backwards as he set the type. Now, that was good proofreading.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Great point – but we haven’t had real compositors who worked with movable type for a LONG time. And they might get words right – but still miss a sentence which made no sense, because most sentences don’t make sense backward.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re right that human mechanical mistakes (typographical errors) always occurred, but when I’ve compared modern publishing output with books that were printed between 1900 and 1950, the increase in mistaken usage is striking. The various metal typesetting systems, from individual characters, to words, to lines of type, and then plates, that evolved through the first half of the 20th century, were replaced by photo typesetting in the 1960s, but even that was still a labor-intensive job that required a compositor’s skills. When computers began to take over typesetting in the 1970s, the extra sets of eyes would have stopped being replaced when they retired. By the 1980s I was noticing more errors in professionally published books, which coincides with the deaths of the last generation of editors who had been rigorously trained in spelling, grammar and punctuation. Sloppy usage became the norm, and after personal computers became affordable to the masses, the display of functional illiteracy in publishing (professional and Indie) exploded.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. What gets me is when there are frequent grammar and spelling errors in a traditionally published book! In self-published ones I have a slightly higher tolerance. Sometimes you make a change to your first sentence right before publishing and forget to remove a now superfluous comma. Sometimes your editor accidentally adds two spellings of a made up thing’s name to the spellcheck dictionary and doesn’t notice it until the book has been out for six months. Things like that. (I’m guilty of both of those, by the way.) But in a traditionally published book, I expect there to have been enough eyes on the page before it made its way to me that somebody would’ve noticed most of the errors and fixed them, yet I read one recently where there were a few “teh” for “the”s, a particular word was misspelled every time it was used, and things like that.

    Liked by 1 person

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