Proofreading – or Utilising your ‘Inner Picky Bastard’
A degenerate like me should be able to enjoy smutty stories in all their dribble-inducing glory. I love nothing more than to immerse myself in the libidinous creations of like-minded perverts, and to delight in the depths of their filthy imaginations.
Writers are creative. They have thoughts and write them down to create fiction. The story is there to entertain readers. When writers have dirty thoughts it’s even better, because putting those thoughts into words creates fucktion. This type of story is there not only to entertain readers, but also to arouse them.
I enjoy stories that I can get into: stories I can see clearly in my head as I read the words. I like to be enveloped in the author’s world and share the experiences through their characters.
But I enjoy many other kinds of stories. I like sluts, slags and slappers. I love horny hotwives and bi-bimbos. I’m happy to read about them getting serviced by studs, bulls, firemen, dwarves and cheating husbands. I like threesomes, foursomes and more-somes, and I love reading an all-girl finger-fest (I suspect I’m a lesbian trapped inside a man’s body).
So as you can see, there must be squillions of stories out there waiting for me to lose myself in.
Unfortunately for me, I have two problems when it comes to reading erotica (I actually have many more, but I’m only going to tell you about two of them).
The first is my ‘realism radar’, which I find difficult to turn off. Put simply, if I don’t believe the story, I can’t immerse myself in it. My radar goes off when characters fall into each other’s underwear at the flimsiest of circumstances (like in a 70’s porno). Or when the guy is hung like a baboon and can copulate for three hours straight—having several copious ejaculations along the way—without the need to stop for a breather or a biscuit.
I want a plot that involves plausible situations and believable performances from the participants – even if they’re less satisfying for the characters. I enjoy a story where the guy comes too soon and the woman has to satisfy herself with an angle-poise lamp.
The second problem I have when I’m reading is my ‘inner picky bastard’, which seems to be something I cannot switch off.
I can be reading a hot scene in a very good story when all of a sudden the spell is broken, and I’m kicked out of the moment by thoughts like: ‘There shouldn’t be a double t in clitoris,’ or ‘I think knobcheese should be hyphenated’. A simple typo can blip me out of the groove, and so then I have to work hard to re-immerse myself.
It’s typos that I’m going to discuss in this post.
Typos are an inevitable part of the writing process. We’re all trying to get our thoughts down into a legible story and our fingers sometimes slip, or our brain runs quicker than our hands. We’ve all done it, and we’ll all continue to do it.
I appreciate how easy it is for typos to slip through – especially in early drafts. When authors read through their own work their mind knows what it should say, and their eyes skip happily past glaring errors that they’d pick up immediately in others’ work. I’m as guilty of this as the next parson (see what I did there?).
But it’s important to pick up as many typos as we can when we proofread.
While it’s easy to accept that one or two errors will slip through to the final draft, I find it disappointing when there are so many that it ruins the story. My ‘inner picky bastard’ is so frustratingly ever-present when I’m reading, that I’ve actually abandoned books I’ve paid good money for. But that could be because I’m an anal, sad twat…
Funny examples of spelling mistakes and typos on public signs are forever being posted on FB and Twitter. Even computer programmers aren’t immune:
A good way for catching typos is to get someone else to read it. Many authors have their own beta-readers who pick up typos as well as plot holes and inconsistencies. This help is invaluable. For others who don’t have beta-readers, ERWA’s email critiquing group, Storytime, is a great place to post an early draft.
The standard indication of a simple spelling error in Microsoft Word is the dreaded red squiggly underline.
If you encounter the red squiggle beneath a word that you know is spelt correctly (such as ‘knobjockey’ or ‘cuntweasle’), then you can right-click on that word and add it to your dictionary. That way, the only time it’ll show a red-squiggly underline in the future is if you spell it differently. You can use the same strategy for characters’ names to make sure you spell them consistently throughout.
Word can often miss typos which create legitimate alternative words. A common mistake I make when I’m typing is to drop the last letter of ‘they’ or ‘then’.
Word reserves the blue squiggly line to indicate where it thinks you’ve used the wrong word. It’s helpful, but you need to use your own discretion as to what you want the sentence to say. As an example of its limitations, below are five sentences. I’ve used bold italics to indicate where Word applied a blue squiggly line:
I saw her running through a wood. [This is what I meant to say]
I saw her running though a wood. [Word spots the grammar error: conjunction used as verb]
I saw her running through a would. [Word spots verb form incorrectly used as noun]
I saw her running through would [No mistake identified!]
I sore her running threw a wood. [incorrect verbs still identified as verbs – no mistake indicated.]
Another common case of blue squiggly lines comes with apostrophes. The programme sometimes suggests you should have it’s when you’ve written its, and vice versa. Word will also raise punctuation queries; if you start a sentence with ‘What’ or ‘Why’ or ‘Who’, it often suggests you need a question mark at the end.
The story I submitted for consideration to the Twisted Sheets anthology contains the following sentence:
‘Mindy groaned around the cock in her mouth.’
I remember looking at the sentence and wondering what I’d done wrong to earn the blue squiggle. I re-read it and thought it said what I’d wanted it to say (no missing words, etc), so wasn’t sure why it had been questioned. When I right-clicked on ‘cock’, the programme suggested I may have meant ‘clock’. Obviously Bill Gates has never heard the crude punk-rock version of Bill Haley’s classic 🙂
Options for spelling (US, UK or Canadian), number format, quote marks, use of italics, hyphens, ellipses and dashes are all things you should know before you start the story, especially if you’re writing for a specific call. These elements in particular need to be proofed carefully, because Word will not have the capacity to assess compliance with a house style.
Tips on Proofreading
I’ve done some professional proofreading for a local medical writing company, using my scientific background, and have also proofread quite a few papers, theses and dissertations for colleagues, friends and family members.
One of the most common suggestions is to put the story away for a couple of weeks, then go back to it. I never have time to do this as I’m often rushing to meet deadlines and release dates. But what I always do, when I first sit down to write, is to read through what I wrote during my last session. This is a first read-through, and lots of typos get cleaned up at this stage.
Below is a list of tips that I’ve found online and in books over the years. I’m not saying you should use all of them (I certainly don’t) – but some work well for me. I suggest you use the ones that work for you.
- print it out and read it on paper (screen glare tires your eyes, apparently)
- get into a correcting mind-set. Don’t try re-writing or editing as you go – just concentrate on eradicating typographic errors
- point a pencil at each word one at a time (apparently this stops the natural tendency to skim)
- a variation of the pencil pointing is to put a ruler under each line as you read
- read it aloud (there are apps that’ll do text-to-speech if you prefer)
- use a different font style than you’re used to and increase the text size
- read it backwards (start at the end and read back, word by word. Apparently it helps you focus on spelling)
- listen to classical music while proofreading
- read it naked (okay – that one’s not actually in any of the articles I read)
I tend to rely on the first two, but I have used the pencil and ruler methods for papers with lots of scientific detail and chemical names.
You probably already know what your most common mistakes are, so you’ll be able to look out for them. Things like missing quote marks, missing commas before dialogue tags, putting each character’s dialogue on its own line, repetition or over-use of certain words. Missing full stops at the end of paragraphs.
I know I’m guilty of all the above. A common mistake I make is to hit the wrong key: more often than not, I’ll hit a semi-colon instead of an apostrophe, giving me don;t, can;t or it;s. At least these errors are easy to spot immediately thanks to the squiggly red underline.
Microsoft Word is also a useful programme to check to see if you overuse certain words. I use words like ‘realise’ and ‘just’ far too often. In a recent story I posted in Storytime, someone pointed out I’d use ‘watch’ a lot of times.
To check if you’re guilty of this, when you have your Word document open, press CTL+F (or click on Find at the top right of your Home toolbar (with the binoculars icon), and choose the same thing from the dropdown menu.
This will open the Navigation panel on the left of the screen. Type any word into the box, and it’ll tell you how many times you’ve used that word within the document. It’ll also show each sentence that includes it, as well as highlighting each instance in the document itself. You can use the arrows to click up and down to see all the uses, and if you change any, the number of uses reduces.
Here’s a screenshot of what you’ll see:
I hope this post – my first one – doesn’t come across as a dig at anyone for not proofreading their stories thoroughly. I appreciate that not everyone has access to a second, fresh pair of eyes to do it for them. But by spending that extra time on checking for and removing needless errors, it makes the manuscript so much more readable – especially for people with an inner picky bastard that won’t shut up.