The First Book of Ezekiel, by Colby R Rice (2:36)

IOD-GhostsOfKoaToday we see that a copy editor is a cheap inoculation against awkward visuals.

What I gleaned about the story: There’s a sniper with a rifle, and he missed a shot.

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WTF #1: He lowered his eye into the scope, positioning the crosshairs over the figure settling into the driver’s seat.

Analysis: I have this sudden image of a guy dangling his own eye from his fingers, by the ends of the optic nerve, lowering it into the scope on his rifle. Obviously that isn’t what the author meant, but that’s what the actual words suggest. These kinds of miscues happen frequently enough in a manuscript, but thankfully, they’re the kinds of errors a good copy editor will find for you. If you use one.

But how much does that actually matter?

Well, in this particular case, that mistaken image occurred in the second paragraph of the story. And instead of slipping into the dramatic, tension-filled experience that the author was trying to create, I was instead laughing to myself at the oddness of the resulting image. If you want your work to be taken seriously, you absolutely must remove all the gaffes like this – especially the ones on the first page. I don’t say this to be cruel, but in order to underline my point in the sharpest terms possible: Laughter is good, when the reader is laughing at your characters and at the funny things they say or do, but you do not ever, under any circumstances, want readers laughing at your writing.

WTF #2: As he began to depress the trigger…

Analysis: On just about every rifle I’ve ever seen, the trigger is positioned on the bottom of the body, and it pulls front to back. Not from up to down. Unless you’re talking about the psychological term, “depress” means to move something downward. Your protagonist can squeeze the trigger, or pull the trigger, or yank, or tug, or maybe even caress it, if you want to evoke an almost erotic relationship between him and his weapon. But he can’t “depress” it. Not unless you’ve already explained that on this weapon, the trigger is a push-button located on top of the rifle.

WTF #3: “Shit,” Xakiah hissed, letting the scope drop. “Gun it, Joseph!”

Analysis: Again, we have what strikes me as an incorrect word choice that’s causing confusion. In this case, I expect that Xakiah would have dropped the entire rifle, but I’m told he only dropped the scope. So that immediately raises a question for me. Why didn’t the rifle fall? Is it on a mount of some kind? And if so, why wouldn’t he have just let go of all of it, and left it up there, including the scope? I’m pretty sure, from context, that the author meant that Xakiah lowered the entire rifle, but because he didn’t say that, he created confusion for me, that required me to go back and reread things. So even if Xakiah had some kind of rifle where the scope was separate from the weapon itself, none of that was described, and I was left scratching my head in irritated wonder. And you know that can only mean that immersion was broken.

Note: Sadly, all three of these examples are taken from the first half page of the book, so I really got no chance at all to gauge the characters, setting, or plot. Even when I’m reading for pleasure (a situation in which I tend to be much more forgiving than I have to be on the treadmill) three strong writing errors like this on the first page means I’m going to pull the plug, delete the sample, and go looking elsewhere for my next read.

Writers who do not find a way to get their work properly edited are wasting everybody’s time, and in many cases, poisoning readers from ever trying their work again. Because nobody returns to an author whose work they don’t respect.

Henchmen, by Eric Lahti (10:00)
The Prophet's Daughter, by Kilayla Pilon (3:19)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.