Tuesday, December 27, 2005

AG: Mistakes


I visited Tess Gerritsen’s blog today. Ms. Gerritsen (actually, Dr. Gerritsen, M.D.) is climbing in to my “favorite author” category. I first encountered her work in the novel, GRAVITY, and have gone on to read several other books by her. Today, she posted a message that every novelist understands—mistakes. Worse, mistakes that make it into print.

The problem with being a novelist is that your mistakes are printed and distributed by the thousands. And there is always someone who will point them out to you. That’s not bad—it stings a little, but it’s not a bad thing.

In my Zondervan book, A SHIP POSSESSED, I weave two story lines around a single, WWII submarine. There is a contemporary story set against a mid 1940’s plot. The McGuffin, as Alfred Hitchcock would say, is the submarine. I have a scene where the sub’s commander during the war thinks back to time with his wife when they watched Milton Berle on television. A reader graciously sent me a note reminding me that The Milton Berle show didn’t air until 1948. He even footnoted his research. I had been off by several years.

Here’s the thing: I don’t recall writing the scene. I opened the document on my computer and did a word search. Sure enough, I had written just as the reader said. Odd how the mind works.

Recently, a reader came to my web page and posted a note about my incorrectly using parameter for perimeter. She was correct and I sent a note to my editor. Not only had I incorrectly used the word, I had done it twice.

Some time ago, I read a book by a bestselling author who set much of the action in California. In one scene, he describes the appearance of California Highway Patrol cars. It was a well written description even if he did get the colors wrong.

Such things happen. If an author pens 100,000 words and is 99% correct, then the book contains 1,000 mistakes; 99.9% correct and still 100 goof-ups linger. That speaks only to typos and grammar. Content is a different matter. We, as writers, try to get everything right, but it doesn’t take long to realize that perfection—even with the help of content and line editors—is beyond the human grasp.

So what do we do? We strive for perfection. When the boo-boos make it into print we remind ourselves that it is a common affliction among writers. Carelessness shouldn’t be tolerated, but human frailty should.

It is good to expect the best of yourself, but not perfection. Only one person has the title Perfect.

Alton Gansky lives, writes, and blogs from California. Visit his website at www.altongansky.com.

6 Comments:

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Patty said...

Thanks for your candor, Al. I wrote a biblical mistake into a book that was part of a series. I knew the text backward and forward yet still my fingers typed in the wrong info. So embarrassing when a reader posted it on my website, but I thanked her. I made it a part of the character development in a following book, yet still, it does sting to make those kinds of mistakes. We's only human.

 
At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Ane Mulligan said...

A little humility keeps our feet on the ground, Al. :) But this is a good reminder that while I seek perfection in my writing, I'll always have some small mistakes but hopefully no large, gaping plot holes. Thanks for the smile.

 
At 6:15 PM, Blogger Domino said...

Thanks for mentioning the possibility of having a book on the bookshelves that is 99.9% perfect, and still people point out those 100 mistakes.

It's helpful to admit our imperfections so we can keep a proper perspective on our successes. I don't have to have the pressure of being mistake-free. All I'm required to do is my best.

It's also helpful to admit that there is ONE who is good. He tends to get His message out in spite of our mistakes.

 
At 10:20 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun said...

Small imperfections don't bother me...but then again J. D. Stanton is my favorite character, anyone who picks on one of his books has me to answer to, especially the first one!

 
At 10:51 PM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

You know, I'm with Bonnie--small mistakes don't bother me. I have better things to do than get in a tizzy about a typo. It's sad, though, that there are so many people with eagle eyes who won't hesitate to point out what got missed by an army of crit partners and editors.

Camy

 
At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Betsy Markman, author said...

Thanks for these encouraging words. I just discovered this blog today, and I'm glad I found it. (I hope that someday it will be available via RSS feed.) I will be sure to check back often.

 

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