Why Editing Needs To Involve More Than Just Hitting The Spell-check Button

31 Oct

Below are two sentences which differ by only one letter. The letter in question happens to have been replaced with another one that is right next to it on the standard English ‘qwerty’ keyboard, so it would be very easy to type the wrong one. If you ran them through a spell-checker, it would tell you that both sentences are fine. The same with a grammar-checker. Yet, the two sentence paint very different pictures in the reader’s mind. Here’s the first sentence: ‘Shush, I think something’s moving out there, quick pass me the gun!’ What’s going on here? Is someone hiding from would-be home invaders? Maybe they’re hiding from something darker, like zombies perhaps? (It is Hallowe’en after all!). Whatever it is, the aim here is clearly to build some tension. Why else would the speaker need a gun? Now for the second sentence, ‘Shush, I think something’s moving out there, quick pass me the gin!’ Gone is any possible tension, instead there’s something slightly comical about it. Why would the speaker be wanting a gin just because there was something moving outside? It could still be zombies, but it’s more in keeping with Shaun of the Dead than Dawn of the Dead.

Which ever one was intended, getting it wrong is going to ruin the image the writer was looking to create in the reader’s mind.  It’s the kind of error that’s very easy to make and one you can only pick up by carefully reading through your work.  For me, I find that, for whatever reason, I’m most likely to miss these types of mistakes if I’m reading my work off a computer screen and more likely to spot them if I print out what I’m trying to edit. Even then, I know I’m likely to miss a few, at least the first time round, and (much as it pains to me admit it) maybe even the second and the third times too. There are two solutions to this. One is to find yourself a good editor to proof read your work, but not everyone has that option available to them.  However, there’s an alternative that’s freely available to everyone which I’ve found can greatly increase my chances of spotting all types of errors in my work.  This is to read it out loud to myself.  Yes, it feels a little daft, especially if someone walks in and catches you doing it, but for some reason the human brain is much better at picking up errors if it hears them spoken out loud than if it just reads them internally. I’ve no idea why this should be but try it, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to spot all sorts of problems with your work.

Anyway, I hope this tip helps you with your editing, and if you happen to meet any zombies when you’re out and about tonight, just make sure you know the difference between where you keep your gun and your gin!


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

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