“If there exists any manner for your writing to be misunderstood,
that is the path your reader will assume.”
Every reader possesses an inner narcissist, some more active than others, who projects their own bias onto any ill-defined scenario. As a fiction author, this concept is doubly worthy of consideration. Which is one reason a good editor
is gold. (Blech! Cliché. Use more specific detail!)
I have a teacher who explains it like this: The reader is always in trouble. Her point being the reader only has the words on the page. They don’t know what the author was trying to convey, but only what is written. So in fiction, how do authors balance between over explanation of scenes such that they sound like stage directions, and ambiguity such that the reader struggles to envision them?
It’s a challenge. But as I plod through yet another round of red-lined manuscript, I’m tempted to name my most foul villain after my editor, just for the satisfaction of killing them slowly. (As long as you do it in a creative, enrolling, and action-oriented manner that furthers the plot.)
We authors know editors
are a necessary evil hold our best interests at heart. Like a drill sergeant pounding our ribs as we perform pushups, they challenge us to see our work from a new perspective. They question ambiguity, sharpen action, deepen meaning, and ultimately make the whole reading experience more immersive. No, we don’t enjoy the exercise, but we accept its benefits.
The point here is that although editors rarely hear it, we love you guys. Your name goes on the manuscript just like ours. To your prodding, we respond, “Thank you sir! May I have another?”
Now, I’ve arranged a few examples below where an editor would’ve saved embarrassment. These are only a few I’ve collected over the past year, so please respond with your own and I’ll update this post with them. Whether you’ve got text, photos, or links, simply reply to this post on my Twitter or Facebook. Share your most outrageous, embarrassing, or humorous goofs.
I took this one while driving in Virginia Beach. Those must be some awesome biscuits for $350!
I noticed this one on the back on an airplane seat. It was truly effective. I no longer nurse an urge to smoke life vests.
My sister took this shot during a visit to Singapore. Nice to know zebras and pedestrians have separate crosswalks there.
OK, this is not a political statement on my part! I’m only interested in the editorial goof. This shot was taken by poet Ken Sutton at a hardware store in a local tourist town. The store sold souvenirs, including bumper stickers, two of which are displayed here in an unfortunate order. I don’t believe the outcome was the store owner’s intention.
I spied someone waving this sign on a street corner. I raised an eyebrow, till I finally made out the words at the bottom and was able to drop it in context. A little editing would save this advertiser many confused looks.