Sunday, February 19, 2012

An editor's (and writer's) pet peeves

Every editor has his pet peeves. I really hate it when a writer says that so-and-so is a legend in college-basketball coaching or stock-car racing. If he's John Wooden or Richard Petty (or Dale Earnhardt Sr.), I'd agree. Anyone else, not likely. There just aren't that many legends out there.

I don't like it when they say that "over" 10 billion burgers have been served. It should be "more than."
I hate it when a novelist constantly says that his protagonist "made his way." Why can't he walk, strut or stumble? Or just fall down and die?

I really, truly hate it when they say that the First Annual Joe Schmoe Memorial Fun Run will be held Saturday. We don't know if it's an annual event. Maybe they'll run out of money, or maybe the fun run chairman will run off with somebody's wife.

I don't look at an event as annual until the third year. They've proven something to me by then; they're not going to give up. They have people and a plan. They're going to find another chairman if he runs off to Acapulco.

To me, the first event is inaugural, not first annual. The next year, it's the second running of Joe's fun run. The third year? It's third annual.

And I really hate it when writers use whom all of the time. If this keeps up, Pete Townshend's band will be The Whom.

I worked with a guy years ago who hated the use of "over" when "more than" would have worked. Over, he said, worked with the cow jumped over the moon; over doesn't work when more than 10 billion burgers have been eaten.

Another editor didn't like to use names in headlines, especially if the person wasn't famous. He also didn't like to start a story with a name.

Yet another editor hated it when newspapers use the word hike as a verb, as in, "The New York Yankees hiked ticket prices yesterday." They also raised prices, and that'll do nicely.

I hate it when a writer uses less when fewer works better. "GM is building less cars this year" makes me throw up. GM is building fewer cars than last year.

I have problems with attribution in a novel. I can stand exclaimed as a verb to replace said, and whispered is perfect. He whispered, and she exclaimed. Great.

But then a novelist will write, "I haven't felt right in years," Julia sniffed. Julia may have sniffed before or after she said it, but she didn't sniff it. She said it. A better way: "I haven't felt right in years," Julia said. She looked away and sniffed into a handkerchief.

I hate it when a novelist uses no attribution at all -- it's tough to tell who's saying what. And I really hate it when the novelist expects me to remember Sally, Joan, Martha and Lula Belle without a scorecard. I probably can remember Lula Belle for obvious reasons. It might help to occasionally remind us that Sally and Joan are cousins, and Martha is Sally's next-door neighbor.

My greatest pet peeve is a lazy writer who won't re-read his stories a few times to find typos or other mistakes. He misses repetition and changes in tense. And he misses repetition (yes, I'm pulling your leg). This guy thinks he's perfect the first time, and he's always wrong.

Contact: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

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