Writer's Blog

A place where I write about the writing life and writing projects in progress

April 06, 2011

  • Speaking of Copy Editors’ Worst Nightmares…
  • As patient as Dr. Smith? has been dealing with my occasional injury to the English language, there has been probably no copy editor on Earth more patient or generous than Cameron Dixon. Cameron is now editor of Enlightenment, the fanzine of the Doctor Who Information Network, but during the last two or so years I edited that zine, Cameron proofread every issue, often at the last minute.

    All I can say is Cameron has the patience of a saint. I tended to write my reviews and articles for Enlightenment at the very last minute (bear in mind I was editing the zine, holding down increasingly busy full-time jobs, and co-editing my first book as well as writing for Enlightenment). As a result my work in Enlightenment was often written with speed in mind rather than sense. Poor Cameron had to defuse all sorts of syntactical minefields and typos. I’m not proud of this. But Cameron is good at what he does and he made me look good as a result.

    One day, Cameron had to go sort out a review I had written of the DVD of 1969 Doctor Who story The War Games. It was a 2000 word review. As usual, Cameron edited from proofs of the issue after layout with all the graphics included. In his errata for the issue, he gave me a list of about 14 or so things that needed changing in my review of The War Games (mostly minor, though there were three really heinous sentences).

    In the middle of all these corrections was this note:

    Okay, I just noticed that the image of the DVD cover that you used spells “Troughton” as “Throughton.” You’re just fucking with me now, aren’t you?

    It turns out I used an image of the DVD cover that BBC Worldwide Americas used with the initial press release about the release—and it had a rather large and rather obvious typo in it.


    The really embarrassing thing is…I did not notice that! At all!


    Posted by graeme | (2) Comments | Permalink

    April 05, 2011

  • The Wit and Wisdom of Dr. Robert Smith? (#1 in a possible series)
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    I can be, I must confess, a copy-editor’s worst nightmare. First of all, I am a terrible self-proofreader. Worse, the combination of instinct, speed and multiple additions and subtractions that comprise my writing process turn my first draft text into a veritable minefield.

    I know I am not alone in this tendency. Oscar Wilde once scrawled a note to his publishers, “I’ll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches.” That’s a tremendous comfort to me.

    Even so, you still have to pity poor Dr. Robert Smith?, my good collaborator on several projects. Dr. Smith? is on the front line of tidying my many woulds, shoulds, wills, shalls, thats and whiches. He’s the man best suited to the task—who knew that someone who has punctuation at the end of his name would be one of the most pedantic men alive?

    What’s great about Robert is that he corrects my lapses in syntax, grammar and general sense with blistering sarcasm. Consequently, I am endlessly amused even as I am shamed. Here are some examples, collected over the past several months of working on our Doctor Who guide, Who is the Doctor:

    • It sounds like the gas mask is looking for its mummy.
    • Let’s not use “alright”, um, ever, all right?
    • “Hugh Quarshie as Solomon’s accent” Mr Quarshie should have won an oscar for playing that accent.
    • Let’s just never use “impact” as a verb.
    • “Lady Eddison was left by her Vespiform lover the Firestone, a jewel which was sought after by the Unicorn.” Was her lover really named “The Firestone”? Must have been quite the lothario! Rewrite this so you don’t sound quite so much like an eighteenth century gentleman.
    • I can follow this sentence, but I need to convert it to mathematical notation first. Could we rewrite this?
    • “Lady Christina has stolen the Cup of King Athelstan (894-939 AD), the first King of England.” Little known facts about the British monarchy: the first king was in fact a cup. Times were simpler back then.
    • “we see a naked, completely vulnerable Doctor” Just so the shippers don’t have a heart attack, how about “we see an emotionally naked, completely vulnerable Doctor”?
    • I need to send the UXB team in on this sentence. It’s like some summary of the plot by a breathless nine year old!

    Stay tuned, faithful reader, for future installments demonstrating more of my terrible sentence structure and Robert’s haughty ripostes.

    Posted by graeme | (13) Comments | Permalink
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