Important or not?

rogersgeorge on March 13th, 2012

I have been accused of superficiality occasionally because I advocate careful proofreading and making sure spelling and punctuation are correct. Regular readers know I subscribe to (and recommend) A Word A Day, which is 18 years old this week. Each day’s post ends with a quote, and today’s was from John Dryden’s writings:

Errors like straws upon the surface flow:
Who would search for pearls must dive below. -John Dryden, poet and dramatist (1631-1700)

John Dryden. (I'm afraid to post a picture of the example at the and of this post.)

To which I presumed to add a couplet:

But straw obscures the view below, my dear:
To plumb the depths, the surface must be clear.

On the surface, as it were, Dryden appears to advocate the position that we should look past superficial mistakes and go for the true intent of the writing. That might be true as far as it goes, but it’s still better not to have that straw interfering with your ability to plumb the depths. And John Dryden was no slouch at getting his grammar and spelling correct.

Two thoughts:

  • Why would you want to distract someone from your pearls of wisdom with something so easily fixed? (Here’s an article I wrote on this subject a while back: Improve your Writing in One Step.)
  • Carelessness advertises bad things about you. True or false, it reduces your credibility. To be blunt, if you are indifferent to mistakes in your writing, you look like a doofus.

I participate in Google+, and I have a circle that contains more than 500 fellow writers. Sometimes one of these folks will offer samples of their work for free on Amazon, and I always download these when I find them. One was so good I must mention it. The title is Ravenwood, and it’s by Nathan Lowell. I don’t know if it’s still free, but it’s worth whatever the price is. The protagonist is a middle-aged woman on her way to find a teacher, who is delayed on her journey by the needs of a small village. The setting is a non-technological kingdom with hints of magic. The story is vivid, exciting, and touching. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Another one of these freebies was so bad, it made me understand the difference between eroticism and pornography. (Joe: “Hey Moe—Do you have any pornography?” Moe: “Nah, I don’t even have a pornograph”) Erotic writing is well written. Pornography is badly written. I think porn merely describes the fantasies of the semi-literate writer, or follows a standard plot line to titillate a frustrated psychological appetite. The writer of this second freebie doesn’t appear to be very literate. Believe it or not, I’m going to quote some of it, a bit sanitized, all from within the space of a couple pages. (This is, after all, a family website.)

I won’t embarrass the author by repeating the pseudonym or the name of the short story:

Sabrina was Master’s protégé, he’d taken her on to teach her how to be a proper Dominatrix. [Comma splice. Should be two sentences. Don’t capitalize “dominatrix.” They got the spelling of “protégé” right, though.]

When we got to the living room, my heart sunk. [sunk? It’s “sank.” Fifth grade English]

I start taking off my clothes before she could even say a word. [It’s “started,” not “start.” I’m pretty sure this is a careless typo, because the rest of the story is set in the past—and I’m glad it’s over.]

Then the flogger hit me. I must of instinctively heard it, because I didn’t flicker so much as a muscle. [“must of“??? Stop torturing me! And you twitch muscles, not flicker them]

And this doesn’t cover lapses in characterization, logic, or flow.

I’ve never participated in the sort of stuff described in the story but it didn’t seem realistic to me. But then, I’m an innocent. And it’s probably pretty formulaic. I’m tempted to punish the writer, though.

Actually, if the writer of that story reads this, I’m sorry to have hurt your feelings. Unless you enjoy this sort of thing.

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