Writing Mistakes in Novels

Every now and then, I read a book so full of writing mistakes it destroys my enjoyment of the story. I was so relieved to stumble on the James Mason Community Book Club, which a forum on GoodReads. Other avid readers voiced their pet peeves with novels. It was a relief to know I am not the only one bothered by some of these things!

Some that were mentioned often that particularly irk me the most include:

Poor editing. So many novels with well-crafted plots don’t live up to their potential because of rampant spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. I see this especially in self-published works. I know from painful experience how difficult catching all those little mistakes is. A few got by me in my own book and now that’s all I can see when I look at it.

But more annoying than a stray typo or two are repeated errors. I’m reading a book that I would be enjoying so much more if the author understood how to use commas. Or used them at all.

Stereotypes. The hero is gorgeous; the heroine stunning, the scientist-type has thick glasses and wild hair. It would be far more interesting for readers to encounter an athletic scientist or heroine with crooked teeth. Characters with flaws are more believable.

Stupidity. It astounds me how characters in books do stupid things that more people would never do. How can a reader care how someone gets out of tight situation if it was their own incredible folly that got them there? Going along with this is the feisty, headstrong heroine who ignores all advice and gets herself and others into trouble. Whether it’s an adventure in Afghanistan in 2012, in 1732 or America in 1693, I lose interest in a woman so convinced she knows what’s right or doesn’t want others to stand in her way that she willfully discards whatever common sense she possesses.

Unnecessary secrets. Going along with unnecessary stupidity, some plots turn on the characters keeping secrets from each other. There are times this makes sense, but if overdone is strains the reader’s ability to believe people would really go to such lengths to not reveal something.

Historical errors. I recently read a book touted as “a well-researched historical novel.” I was sadly disappointed. The heroine (daughter of one of the Roman Caesars) was taking French lessons. Really? There are a few problems with this. At that time, French as a language did not exist. The languages called Old French and Old Frankish were just beginning to develop. (I learned this when I did a google search to check that my complaint was valid.) Also, the area now called France was at that time called Gaul, and was considered a somewhat barbaric outpost of the Roman Empire. Why would Caesar’s daughter be learning the language of the barbarians? My guess (and I didn’t check this) this author has written Victorian romance novels, and had her Roman princess study what Victorian princesses did. I an author is going to claim their novel is well-researched, then they need to make sure they’ve checked their facts.

Anachronisms fall into this category. Some of these mistakes are as simple as having a character in the 1980s talk about using the internet. Others involve the characters’ attitudes. For example, a woman who divorced her husband 100 years ago would not be likely to meet great approval from her family and friends. Giving characters attitudes common in the 21st century when they supposedly live in another time creates a disconnect for the reader.

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