The Editorial Bloopers Hall of Fame

Teresa Kennedy

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Okay writers, let’s face it. We all have our little quirks, idiosyncrasies and those weird, entirely individual conventions in our style of personal expression that have a way of working themselves into our prose.
Sometimes, those can manifest on the page as what is politely called “authorial intrusion”. Other times, they are celebrated as the true essence of the author’s emergent “voice”. Most times, however, they provide unfortunate evidence that the overworked and underappreciated writer maybe should have gotten up from the computer and gone outside for more fresh air and sunshine until they stopped writing long enough to figure out what they were actually trying to say.
Remember folks, it’s not the number of words you write, but the quality and precision of those words that count. So to honor some of the most prevalent, and in some cases, downright spectacular crimes ever committed in the name of literature, we present the following examples, each in its own weird way, worthy of a mention in our Editorial Bloopers Hall of Fame:

The Directionally Challenged: “She looked up at the ceiling, as she sat down in her chair.” Here’s the thing: Ceilings are always UP and readers tend to know this. So are stars, the sky and indeed the firmament. Similarly, it is very difficult for a character to sit anywhere but down. Any and all chairs, sofas, settees tend to be constructed for that convenience. The only possible exception is when a character sits up from a prone position, at which time it is almost never necessary to specify what they are sitting up on. Surprisingly, readers are also never interested when characters “walk across the floor”. If they are indoors, there’s always a floor and everybody knows that.

Nouns are Not Verbs: Sure, you may insist upon poetic license, you might call it stylistically experimental, but the fact is, if your readers share a common language, we’re all fairly familiar with the basics of how it’s supposed to work. In much the same way that you can flavor tofu to taste like steak, but everybody still knows it’s tofu, dressing a noun up in verb’s clothing just doesn’t cut it. Therefore, sentences such as “Myrna fisted her hand.” Or “Gregory lipped a smile,” are enough to give the average reader serious pause. And guess what? When a reader pauses, they’ve stopped reading.

Body Parts: It is an unwritten rule of editorial thumb that unless you’ve authored some sort of zombie apocalypse, body parts should not react independently of the characters they’re attached to. “Her head swiveled at Alfonse’s entrance, as her chest heaved” might mean anything from torrid attraction to something out of The Exorcist, but unless we know the parts are indeed attached to the character in question, we have no way of discerning just what Milady’s reaction to Alfonse might consist of. Too often, a writer will zone in on the part in question thinking to clue us in, (her head is moving so she must be thinking) rather than specifying what’s actually going on, saying things such as, ”Her hand made a little gesture,” instead of actually coming out and saying if she was doing the royal wave or flipping somebody off. It never, ever works.

Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nods. Truly the bane of a line editor’s existence, if we had the proverbial nickel for every time we blue-lined one of these, we probably wouldn’t be blogging. “He nodded his head,” “She blinked her eyes rapidly. “ “Ferdinand couldn’t resist another wink of his eye.” If you don’t find this device redundant, just try nodding something besides your head, or winking or blinking some bit of anatomy that isn’t your eye. See what we mean? Wink, wink.