I Agree with Herbert

H G Wells House Plaque
Plaque by the H. G. Wells Society at Chiltern Court, Baker Street in the City of Westminster, London, where Wells lived between 1930 and 1936.

“No compulsion in the world is stronger than the urge to edit someone else’s document” said Herbert George Wells, and I know the feels––Herbert is better recognised as H. G. Wells, an exceptional English author, satirist and biographer (21 Sept 1866 – 13 Aug 1946) who famously wrote The Invisible ManWar of the Worlds and The Time Machine.

I can understand how the fingers of Mr Wells must have itched, his brain must have misfired and his breath must have been shallow as he read a paragraph which badly needed editing.  Indeed, I often wonder how some books (or e-books) get into print when it is glaringly obvious they need a bit of trimming and correction.

Just recently I read an e-book with blurb announcing an award, author kudos and high sales.  Undeserved as far as I’m concerned.  Why?  The author had no idea of descriptive body language.  The best he could do was “He frowned”, “She frowned”, and for variety “He scowled”, “She scowled” until I deleted the book at “She wrinkled her brow”.

How did this get loose and launched on the general reading public?  I’m sure Rule 101 is “If in doubt, substitute ‘said’ and let the dialogue do the work”.  Don’t repeat yourself.  Unpublished as I am, I guess the writer can sneer and say “Well, I got the pay cheque and you didn’t” but I can retort with “Have some integrity.”  Or go back to writing classes.

It’s easy to think “Not all publishing houses are that blind” but, oh, many are.  If you haven’t read a book with an error, you haven’t read enough books.  Pathetically, hardly a week goes by without my subconscious editing a typo or tidying a sentence.  I will never know how efficient I am, whether I am always right, but, man, it makes me feel better!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Proof-reading Style Errors

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Breaking the proof-reading rules?

The style guide reads: Below are errors in style due to inappropriate or poor choices of language which can lead to boring, imprecise and inaccurate writing. In some situations, they may be relevant and suitable, but they are usually best avoided––

  • Clichés, over-used phrases, e.g. bed of roses, pretty as a picture.
  • Vogue words and trendy expressions, e.g. proactive, meaningful dialogue.
  • Colloquialisms in formal writing.
  • Parochialism in documents intended for a wide audience.
  • Jargon in documents intended for a general audience.
  • Euphemisms, e.g. pass away, upwardly mobile.
  • Overstatements, e.g. fabulous, incredible, fantastic, amazing.
  • Archaic words, e.g. herewith, thereby, hereinafter.
  • Sexist terms, e.g. man-made, nurseryman, waitress.
  • Tautologies, e.g. totally unique, completely empty.
  • Ambiguity, e.g. maybe I would if I could.
  • Unnecessary use of foreign words and phrases.

This information was retrieved from my older Word.doc files with no acknowledgements attached.  As a touch of humour, I wrote the short profile of Aunt Belinda.  I can only suppose such formal advice is for non-fiction writers.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward