Wherefore art thou, critical reader?

At the risk of sounding a though I’m saying “Get off my lawn,” I have to say to all of you (and me) who read — WTF? Where are our standards?

I read a number of (romantic/erotic) stories online, and since getting an Amazon Kindle (love it!) have gotten a number of e-books cheap and free. I’m a reader, always have been, and voracious when I get the chance.

Allow me a quick digression: My mom says the first thing I read, when I was about four, was a newspaper headline: Snipper Kills Five. It was “sniper,” of course, but hey, I was four. She also says I learned to read from The Electric Company — sigh, where have you gone, Letterman? No, not David Letterman, but Letter-man — stronger than a silent “e,” able to leap capital letters in a single bound!

To the subject at hand — So I read these stories, and these books, and many of them make me shake my head. Never mind character or plot development — what about punctuation? Grammar? Spell check? Okay, spell check won’t catch everything, so you need more attention there. But how many times do I have to see dialogue like this:

“Jim I don’t like the blue shirt” She said.

“Oh why not. Its nice” Jim replied.

Can you find all the errors here? (This is just a made up example, btw.)

1. The comma after “Jim” is missing.
2. The comma after “shirt” is missing
3. “She” should be lower case (she).
4. The comma after “Oh” is missing in he second sentence.
5. There should be a question mark after “not.”
6. The word is “it’s,” for a contraction, not “its” in this case.
7. The comma after “nice” is missing.

More generally, I will see “waste” for “waist,” “your” for “you’re,” and of course there’s the constant “there/their/they’re” misuse.

And I see these things all the time. I’m baffled. Now, not everyone took Sister Kathleen’s English class like I did, but come on — this is so basic! I know English is a difficult language to spell, and homonyms don’t make things easier, but how do we not know this?

The kicker (or killer) is that I will read stories with consistent errors like this, and then in the public comments will be things like:

“This is so great! Cant wait for more!”
“Your a great writer!”

Should someone point out the errors, you frequently see a follow-on comment like:
“Ignore the critics.”

Well, okay. You can ignore the critics — but your grammar is still terrible and, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, your story sucks.

Plot and character suffer as well. Characters do what the author wants, regardless of whether they would. Shy, virginal women are suddenly coy vixens in the bedroom; geeky guys instantly possess knowledge of how to woo a girl who is not Princess Leia. Hard-ass alpha males melt into a puddle at the site of their woman. (For a great essay on the alpha male, click here.)

For plots, well… often if the writer wants it to happen, it does, no matter how forced from circumstances.

And… after all that… readers rave.

I’m all for fluff, believe me. I love me a fluffy romance, or a pulpy sf novel. But why can’t we have well done fluff? Why can’t we have fluff with well-developed characters and a plot that has all its ends tied together?

A friend suggested this is a problem that shows up for romance and sf — and that goes back a bit to my previous post. My editor and I had a conversation on Facebook about this — is it because publishers think no one will notice the errors? Or, more cynically, are they dissing their readers? Do they figure that “Hell, it’s just bodice rippers for women? They won’t care if we say hockey has three-minute penalties, or that Paris is in England.”

I hope not. One disadvantage to finding problems in reading is you don’t know until after you’ve read it how bad something is, or how full of mistakes. If you’ve bought it, you can’t exactly vote with your pocketbook. You could probably write to the author or publisher, who knows what kind of response you’d get, if you got one.

So what can we do? Writers, we can learn the basic rules, start using them, and bend them when necessary to make a point in our books. Readers, we can demand a little more. We can criticize — in a constructive way. We can stop buying writers until they fix things up (or hey — go back to the library! :).

But fellow readers — it’s not wrong to want more, nor to ask for it. It is wrong to think this is the best we can get.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Preach on, sister! The occasional typo is one thing; most of Tom Clancy’s books contain typo’s and erroneous references, and he’s an author that was lauded for his precision and specificity. However, the bar is set far too low – Literotica is an obvious example. The stuff on Lit is only stroke stories, right?

    Happily that least common denominator approach is not universally held.

    Keep fighting the good fight Eve!


  2. Posted by Walka on October 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Bravo! I agree with the previous comment–loved all you said here.

    One more thing to add. Does anyone write the ellipsis correctly? It should be three spaced dots, but how often is this done?

    Example: “I really don’t know . . . I will have to think about it.”

    To my understanding, the above, is the correct way.

    But instead, I see it written as:

    “I really don’t know………………I will have to
    think about it.”

    “I really don’t know…I will have to think about it.”

    “I really don’t know … I will have to think about it.”

    If beginning writers would go to their local bookstore and thumb through todays best selling novels, they would grow accustomed to seeing it written correctly. Sometimes, the three dots will appear not to have spaces between them, but this is only an illusion, and is because of very small print.

    Referring to the hardcover of the same book, one can see the dots are actually
    spaced. It is always: space, dot, space, dot, space, dot, space. For those interested
    in a more detailed explanation, they should refer to the Chicago Manual of Style.


  3. I have to confess I’m an ellipsis offender. I type the three dots, Word makes it a character, and I go from there, although I do try to keep appropriate spacing on either side. I’m a bit surprised my editor hasn’t picked up on it, as I know she uses the CSM. I guess going forward, I shall change it.


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