|Error photo by Nick J Webb | via Flickr|
A couple years before I graduated, I met a fellow student in the grad school computer lab. It wasn't until the final months of school that someone told her how she had to format her thesis--she had nearly 700 pages she had typed using a typewriter. In order to meet the graduation requirements, she needed to re-type her entire manuscript and format it as the school required. From her panicked face, I could tell that she would probably have a few errors in her finished thesis.
It was, unfortunately, the nature of the process. Finding errors in one's writing is also the nature of the process of writing.
My master's thesis (a less-than-700-page novel) received comments from a few non-committee readers. For the most part, they were positive comments on a draft that I had re-worked fairly well. However, some of the readers pointed out that I had grammar errors here and punctuation errors there.
Embarrassingly, one glaring error occurred on the first page of my thesis. For someone who believed she had almost error-free writing, it was a humbling experience. (Excuse mode: Admittedly, as one prepares for a thesis defense, formatting enters into the equation more than ever before and sometimes, while one looks at margin spacing, errors creep into the text.)
Errors crop up--even for the most careful of writers. Some are errors of style (unnecessary capitalization) and others are grammar (split infinitive anyone?). Others may be continuity issues--Jude in chapter one is referred to as Jim in chapter six. Often a writer is consistent in the errors made (which makes it easier to edit) and, then again, the writer is widely inconsistent in the errors cropping up (a bear to edit).
So when are the errors too many errors? Lately I've been reading a few editors discuss this subject. No one has a good answer--there is no golden number or glaring error that sends up a red flag.
But for me, there are too many errors in someone's writing when the reader is pulled out of the story because the errors are jarring and makes the reader leave the story to figure out what the writer meant.
If I am finding lots of errors, I stop reading the plot and start looking for errors. In one particular published novel, there were a couple errors that were whopping. (Feet instead of inches errors. Yes, I sent an email to the publisher.)
So, if you have a reader who can't get past the first few errors on the early pages, maybe you've found someone to edit your work.
What errors do you notice in your writing? What errors do you notice in the writing of others?
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer (who makes errors) and an editor (who tries not to err). Regardless, she's on Twitter @Eliz_Humphrey.