Chris on Shades of Grey and Red.

black_white_grey_i_resize_jpg There’s been lots of debate recently about what’s more important – the tale or the telling. How does a cracking good story riddled with errors compare with perfect prose telling a dull tale?

With free ebook samples there’s no need to put up with either, but as a reader I simply won’t continue with a novel full of mistakes or grammar that sets my teeth on edge, not because I’m a pedant or an intellectual snob, but because it breaks the spell for me. I want to lose myself in that story, not reach for my red pen!

Terrific characters are the driving force of every memorable story, but they’ll struggle to make their voices heard if they’re drowned out by sloppy writing. We all make mistakes; I listened to the great PD James once, laughing with her audience about the time she wrote a scene about a motorbike reversing and was inundated with correspondence from readers keen to correct her (mind you, I wouldn’t have had a clue about that one either, but please don’t write to tell me what motorbikes can and can’t do!).

So even though I’ve watched my typescript turn from grey to red with numerous corrections throughout the editing process this week, I’m grateful to my editor for picking up on all the silly mistakes that often get missed at the end of a long haul – because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Painting is ‘Black, White, Grey’ by Tom Tomos

18 thoughts on “Chris on Shades of Grey and Red.

  1. LOL – glad to hear I’m not the only one that feels like reaching for a red pen sometimes. Although must say, not sure I’ll ever want to see another red pen once my own edits are under way. Love Tom’s painting – am assuming he daren’t do one entitled ‘Seeing red’ to represent edits? :)

  2. Lots of bells ringing here, Chris. I can’t help proof reading instead of reading, and I always learn loads from being edited myself! LOL at Sarah’s comment about Tom’s painting.

  3. I so agree, Chris. I think. It irritates me to find to keep coming across stupid errors that should have been picked up at the copy editing stage, if not before. My hesitation is that if I got beyond seeing those errors, and found myself gripped by the story, I think I might read on.

    A friend of mine, just returned from Corsica, read ‘Fifty shades of Gray’ out there. She found it tedious, repetitive and and that it went nowhere, although she had to finish it to find that out! She didn’t think it worth bringing back to England and left it in the villa for the next visitor. It may be a very pleasant surprise for the next visitor – it’s not quite the sort of book you expect to find in the holiday rental.

    Liz X

  4. Everyone benefits from being edited, imho. A fresh pair of eyes sees more than the writer ever can.

    I’ve just been asked to insert a scene in ‘Dream a Little Dream’ and it wasn’t until I began to write it that I saw what a valuable addition it is to the book. I had obviously missed a trick but the editor was able to see that I hadn’t quite rounded a thread out.

  5. You are so right, Chris. A well-written book you can just read; a badly written book has me making mental notes all the time: ‘wrong word,’ ‘missing link,’ ‘clunking,’ ‘tense?’ ‘to what does this pronoun refer?’ etc. Mind you writing good prose is not easy and none of us is perfect.

  6. It can be a fine line. Sometimes you spot a mistake, feel smug and move on, other times it’s the full ‘going back the the library unfinished’ moment. And that can depend on the mood I’m in. Picky? Me?

  7. I find it annoying too, but what I find even more annoying is when the characters are acting out of character, or a plot point doesn’t quite work, or loose ends haven’t been tied up properly. That can drive me to distraction! If anyone of you have seen the film “Prometheus” (prequel to “Alien”) which came out recently, you’ll probably agree that there was a massive plot hole in it. But none of us are perfect, and a good editor is essential – my editor recently discoved a glaring mistake in my book (I won’t tell you what it is ;-) ), but it’s been sorted out now.

  8. I have so many books here with a bookmark inserted around the fifth chapter – all of which I just haven’t been able to bring myself to finish because of all the things Chris comments on.I have even been known to throw a book across the room in utter frustration at how it ever made it into print. Not a Choc Lit book, obviously….:)

  9. I’m another ‘book thrower’. My trouble is that I’m a shocking intellectual snob – when someone uses a word wrongly (particularly when I think it’s a word in fairly common useage) I find myself thinking ‘well, if you were too dumb to look it up if you weren’t sure, then I don’t trust your storytelling abilities either’. I need to trust that authors whose work I am reading actually ‘thought through’ the story, rather than just dashed something down that struck them as a good idea, and/or that nice, kindly editors pointed out the errors and got them corrected.

  10. I always await a new lot of editorial notes in fear and trembling. But once I’ve hyperventilated for an hour or two and thrown a few cushions around, I get down to it and try to make a better book. Starting an edit is a bit like getting into a swimming pool – agonising at first, but it can be quite pleasurable once you get stuck in.

  11. That’s a great way of putting it, Margaret! I dread edits too, but I know they’re invaluable and it’s great that someone else can spot the mistakes so you have a chance to put them right. Having said that, if I’m reading a really good story, I don’t care how badly written it is – I’ll still want to finish it. So I guess great storytelling can excuse a lot!

  12. Thanks very much for joining in the debate everyone. We’ve got a range of opinions here, with Christina being the most willing to forgive bad writing for the sake of a good story. I’m not a complete book thrower because I can always see something in my own writing I’d like to do better – although that’s where a good editor is such a bonus! – but if the author really can’t be bothered to get the book right, then I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to read it.

  13. And, Sarah – you should see Tom’s ‘Black and Red’! I’m wondering now if that was inspired by scenes in my study!

  14. I am a ‘book thrower’ and I hate to see glaring mistakes in a book. My philosophy is…there are far too many good books out there to waste any time on lousy or badly written ones…in fact, I am rather annoyed to know that one day I’ll die and great new authors will keep on writing and I won’t get to read their books!

    I am very lucky because my partner is an absolute pedant when it comes to grammar and spelling, so he gets first proof read after about my third revision, and as thorough as I am, he always finds something! When I was lecturing (linguistics) I drummed it into my students that they cannot do their own proof reading, as you cannot always spot your own mistakes. It is so true.

    A good editor is essential. Must find one!

  15. LOL Chris – can’t see him confessing to that one! :) X

  16. Wendy, that was excellent advice to your students… I’m always convinced I’ve done a great job of my proof reading… until someone else reads the m/s!

  17. Gosh you are right! As someone who is self-editing for an ebook,it is soo important to get it right. And so easy not to. But, like many of you, I’ve read ‘sample’ pages and thought -umm..I could have done this better. Good luck with the book!

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