Apparently, book lovers have been storing up their pet peeves in the cellar for years, just waiting for someone to ask. Hundreds and hundreds of people responded, exceeding my wildest dreams.
Dreams, in fact, are a primary irritation for a number of readers. Such reverie might have worked for Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” or Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but no more, thank you very much. “I absolutely hate dream sequences,” writes Michael Ream. “They are always SO LITERAL,” Jennifer Gaffney adds, “usually an example of lazy writing.”
Actually, I sort of like dreams — if they’re brief and emotionally evocative. I’m not sure what Ream means by saying dreams are always so literal. I haven’t noticed that.
Let me see, do I ever hate dreams in novels? Oh, yes — I don’t like long dreams that direct the protagonist’s attention to some important item. Magic dreams, let’s say. Possibly that’s what is meant by “literal.” Also of course endings where it was all a dream, but that’s surely (very) rare these days. However, as a rule, I do not hate dreams in books, or even dislike dreams.
Oh, here’s one: Katherine A. Powers, Book World’s audiobook reviewer, laments that so many “authors don’t know the difference between ‘lie’ and ‘lay.’”
I completely agree. Completely. Various otherwise excellent writers make this mistake in book after book, which means their proofreaders are also making this mistake and the author doesn’t fix it, which DRIVES ME NUTS. If the proofreader routinely misses this error, then it’s the author’s job to get this sorted out. If the back of your brain can’t do this correctly while you’re writing, that is what the Find command is actually for. Find every. single. instance of lay throughout the entire manuscript and look at it and change it if necessary. For crying out loud, this should not be that difficult.
As a side note, I don’t think I ever make this mistake, but I bet if I did ALL OF YOU would catch it. I’m almost tempted to put an incorrect “lay” somewhere in a draft to prove that.
While we’re on the topic, I don’t care how much trouble it is, if you happen to be one of the many people who sometimes write “and I” when you mean “and me,” then do the same thing for “and I” and look at every single instance and analyze it and change it to “and me” when appropriate.
Once you know something like this is a problem for you, I suggest that it would be sensible to add this check to your routine checklist of ordinary preparation of a file for publication. I’m assuming proofreaders at Big Five publishers don’t make these mistakes, but if one does, the author ought to notice that and stet it and also imo write a sharp little note on the page proofs, because that should never happen. These mistakes are just like fingernails down a blackboard.
I grant, some potential errors would be horrifically annoying to search for, such as “it’s” vs “its.” Still, if that were a serious problem for me, I would search for that. In fact, I do search for semicolons and dashes and remove about a quarter of them. I bet you would never guess that because there are hordes and gobs and oodles left. I really like semicolons and dashes! But I do take out quote a lot of them.
OH. I have an actual tip that might help for many of these sorts of errors. Did you know you can put whatever you want in Autocorrect in Word?
You can go to File, then Options, then Proofing, then Autocorrect Options, and then you can tell Autocorrect, for example, to replace “lay” with “check again” and hit Add and Okay. Then every time you type “lay,” the text will appear in your document as “check again.” In order to actually put the word “lay” in your document, you can then tell Autocorrect to replace “lya” with “lay.”
That will definitely make you stop and think before you use “lay.”
I got that tip from someone … trying to remember who it was … oh, it was Gary Corby! Glad I remembered. Anyway, Gary said he replaced “just” with “no no no” because he thought he was overusing “just.” To actually put the word “just” in his document, he autocorrected “jsut” to “just.”
Anyway, back to the linked post about stuff readers hate!
Meanwhile, Cali Bellini finds that the word “preternatural” is “overused, abused and never necessary.”
Now, that just strikes me as funny. I think this has to be confirmation bias. I don’t remember the last time I saw the word “preternatural” in a novel. I wouldn’t bet money that I have ever seen it! I think this is an example of someone saying “I don’t like [this specific word]” and then noticing instances of that word for the rest of their life. I bet if you made a tick mark on a calendar every time you saw the word “preternatural” in a novel in 2023, you wouldn’t have more than two checkmarks on the calendar at the end of the year — even if you read a book a day.
All right, for me, the overuse of “preternatural” is not a problem. I’m not sure there is any specific words I’m so tired of that it jumps out at me. I’m trying to think of a word like that and I’m not coming up with anything.
And I don’t think I see any other grammatical problems that really irritate me.
Except “alright” as one word, and I must grudgingly acknowledge that some benighted people do apparently feel that’s legitimate. It’s just that they’re wrong and “alright” stops my eye every single time I see it and I just detest it.
How about you? What specific usage errors or particular words make you shudder with a fingernails-on-a-blackboard feeling?