I’m currently reading a novel by an author who is always an auto-buy for me. I have probably purchased some twenty novels by this writer and I think she’s capable of basically blinking and producing fairy dust. So before I get started, don’t get me
wrong. Love. This. Author.
That said, as I was reading along last night in bed, darling husband beside me beneath the fluffy covers, I pointed to my Nook. “See, this is what I mean,” I said. “The entire state of editorial is getting sloppy.” He’d been reading a book, too, and had already—thirty minutes earlier—pointed to the misuse of Gallic instead of Gaelic in his own novel. I think we all know that there are fewer people editing more books at the big publishers. And with self-published books, due diligence in details can be overlooked occasionally. But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about how important it is for a writer to watch their own backs, because in the end, authors are responsible for what they put out. It’s their baby, no matter who publishes it.
In the case of my auto-buy author, I explained to my husband what was frustrating me: multiple characters were using the same dialogue pattern. Let’s say I, Deidre Knight, am prone to saying, “Well, aren’t I a monkey’s banana?” If I’m a fictional character, I should be the only person using that phrase. If some other character also says, “Well, aren’t I a monkey’s banana?” or “Well, aren’t I a doggie’s biscuit?” then it creates a disruption for the reader. We the people no
longer buy into the author’s world if every character or numerous characters are using the same phraseology pattern. Even worse, we no longer buy the characters. It shatters the illusion we’ve stepped into.
The same problem occurs if an author is fond of tagging his manuscript with a particular favorite word. I used to be really attached to the verb “thrum”. His body thrummed with energy. My manuscript thrummed with a preponderance of thrumming. A friend would give me “thrumming alerts” when she read over my manuscripts, pulling back my overusage until finally I weaned myself off that word. But let’s use another example. Say, how many times do you think or use “trifecta”? If you do, what are the chances that your co-worker does as well? Or, say, “hoary”? My brainiac husband might look out on a winter’s morning and say, “Look, doll, there’s a hoary frost!” But I doubt anyone else within a ten mile radius would do the same. So just because the author is fond of a more poetic word does not mean that three characters in the same fictional world would be. That’s the distinction: is it a word that the author is imposing or a word that naturally spills forth from character?
Word repetition (called an “echo” by copy editors) is something that generally causes a disconnect for readers. It’s not just sloppy–it’s jarring after a while. What do I mean by an echo, you ask? If you use any word several time or more in a short few pages, say, vampiric. “His vampiric bride wasn’t sure how to bed and handle her vampiric husband’s needs.” But the repeated usage need not be so close together. In the case of a fairly unique word such as “vampiric”, if it appears even five or six times in a few short pages, that would be too heavy-handed.
Beware, too, the word that you the writer tend to use as filler. I discovered that I was prone to some variation of “just” and started search/replace every time I finished a book. Especially if I was writing in first person, present tense, for some reason, I “justed” all over the place: “He was just a man, nothing more.” “It was just a Monday, the least exciting day of the week.” (Bland examples, but you get the point, I’m sure.) I believe there are computer software programs that will even analyze your manuscript for phraseology and key words that tend to repeat too much. But the best cure, even if it’s the old-fashioned one, is to do what I do: read aloud. You’ll hear the nuances and problems that your mind’s eye naturally corrects when you only read on the page.
Editing is a vital part of the process, and it starts and ends with the author themselves. Even if you think your eyes cheap viagra online might bleed, read over your material just one more time—read it aloud to your husband or best friend. And it’s especially good to give it that final go-thru after you’ve stepped away from it for a few weeks.