A Novel Approach

A Novel Approach
Number Five: Caution children, exciting

Welcome to A Novel Approach, a weekly note about writing. Join us and follow us. I’ll post the tip on Twitter at JWLBooks and the full note on Facebook at Jack Woodville London, at the MWSA site, and right here at the blog. Here we go.

Number Five: Caution children, exciting.

What’s going on here? Is this statement really about the joys of telling youngsters to beware of something tantalizing? It could be. It also could be about pedophiles, who may not always know where to stick their commas, in which case the author should have written ‘Caution, children exciting.’ However, it is more likely that the person who composed the bus signs made a combination of errors in attempting to warn cars in the neighborhood that children would be getting off the school bus, which should have been written thus: ‘Caution: Children exiting.’

Despite, or perhaps because of, the wonders of spell-check and grammar correction functions in word processing programs, grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors hole more boats than a renegade submarine. Spelling errors, contractions, commas, and mistakes in word selection are the most common buggers for writers but also are the easiest to dust up without the author having to suffer the red marks of humiliation that editors love to scribble on manuscripts.

Take a few minutes to read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a wonderful little book by Lynn Truss. It might be about the diet of pandas, who eat shoots and leaves, or it might be about a renegade marsupial who comes into town, gobbles up the food, then uses a six-shooter to gun down the waitress before departing. (The panda eats, then shoots and leaves….). Regardless, her book is about the devil in the comma, not the least of the imps that cause confusion to writers and readers as well.

A few examples of easily-made, easy to correct errors:

Bee ware. Your in. Sorry for the incontinence. Man eating tiger. And, my favorite advertisement on a billboard at a rather inexpensive motel: ‘Free wife for your lap top.’

Be hard on yourself in your quest to make your writing clear to readers. Look for uncertainty in every punctuation mark and synonym. I don’t think George Clooney looks like me, but it was nice for the woman to say that. By the time you are ready for someone else to read your story, you’re riding will be reddy two.

See you next week.


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