When is “correct” the incorrect choice?
We’ve been busy here in Fiji fixing things, but Wayne and I are at work on vastly different projects. He is working with the welder and crew to fix the keel cooler. We also have guys on scaffolding around the boat sanding and grinding the dark blue paint on the topsides for a new hull paint job. Meanwhile, I am working with the proofreader to fix the manuscript for the new book, Knight’s Cross.
You’d think I’d be used to this by now. This is my seventh book with a traditional publisher who has provided the services of very good editing. First, it was the developmental editing, then the copy editing, and now I am at the proofreading stage. When dealing with a manuscript of 138,000 words, non-writers might think we writers won’t angst about each and every word.
And they would be wrong.
On the one hand, what these editors do is fantastic, and they have saved me from many an embarrassing faux pas. Like the time I had a character walk into a bar at night and walk out an hour later to watch the sun set. Or in this book where I set up a whole paragraph of code work that was based on there being 24 letters in the alphabet. Whoops! Neither I nor my acquisitions editor, developmental editor, or copy editor found it. Thank goodness for the proofreader. Now THAT would have been embarrassing if the book had made it to print with that!
On the other hand, sometimes the changes they suggest drive me crazy, and I spend WAAAAY too much time trying to decide if I want to make these changes or not.
I might have been a high school English teacher and a college English professor, but I still speak very colloquial English. I also write it.
colloquial: adj. language used in ordinary or familiar conversation; not formal or literary.
synonyms: informal, conversational, everyday, nonliterary
I think using ordinary language happens to be a strength of mine for the type of books I write. I write books that are meant to be entertaining. I want my readers to enjoy reading my books. I may not write beautiful prose, but I’ve been told my stories have a comfortable, intimate feel. Readers don’t like to feel a distance between the language of the storyteller and the language they use every day. If the writing is too formal it doesn’t invite the reader in. But if there are too many errors, that too can put off readers. Writers need to strike a balance here because all readers don’t speak the same English.
For example, I hear more and more English speakers who will say, “Her and I used to have dinner together.” Others would scorn this use of the objective pronoun as subject and instead use the grammatically correct “She and I…” Of course, when a writer is writing dialogue, we need to write the words that the character would say. But what about the narrative text? If it is still from the point of view of a certain character, should it have the rhythm and personality and voice of that character?
Here is an example of the sort of thing I struggle with. I wrote this sentence in a passage that is from Riley’s point of view.
Cole swung around in the leather pilot chair with the biggest grin on his face.
The proofreader points out that this superlative has no comparison and suggests I could change it to the biggest grin Riley had ever seen — or to a huge grin.
I have made the change to a huge grin, and while the text is now more grammatically correct, it feels a bit less like what Riley would really think. I’m trying to strike that balance between preserving voice and using the language correctly.
This brings us to the question of what is correct? Language is constantly evolving. It has become quite common to say things like “Oh, that was just the grossest thing!” Rather than it being a comparison, it is meant to be absolute. Perhaps our language will evolve to make this a correct usage in the future.
In much the same way, Wayne is striving to find that balance between what needs to be done for our boat to be correct, i.e. safe and seaworthy, and what changes fit with the spirit of the boat and are just right for LEARNATIVITY. Does this old girl really need a mirror-like topsides finish, or would that be out of character for this boat? And as we start to realize that some qualities we yearn for will simply never work for this boat, we continue to dream of moving on and building a new boat.
Just as I have started my new novel.
We’re each finding our ways toward the balance we seek. Lucky for me, though, I mailed off my manuscript yesterday. The boat on the other hand, is going to be here “under cover” for several months more.