Errors in writing that can be so difficult to avoid

November 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Once they had decided that there was no point in their just standing there and that they had better start climbing, Connell took what at first looked like a portable radio from the car before he locked it.   The Siege of the Villa Lipp by Eric Ambler (Page 2)

The close succession of ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘there’ could have been avoided.

I felt slightly ashamed of myself as I left the flat, and that evening I told May I was sorry. But that didn’t make any difference to my feelings, and it didn’t make any difference to May, who still went on eating her toast and marmalade in the same way.  At about that time, the end of May, the McKenna case was taking up . . . . The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons (Chapter 11, page 56-57)

Much of the action of this book takes place in April, May and June. Why does Julian Symons call one of the main characters May? Surely Julian Symons’s editor noticed that the main character was called May and some of the events were taking place in May. The coincidence of a character’s name and a month’s was bound to make the reader stumble. And also there could have been a third ‘may’: “May may want to go on holiday in May.” Did Julian Symons have some clever reason for the duplication of ‘May’ the girl and ‘May’ the month?

With his free hand he took one of the handles of the heavy market-bag, and helped his grandfather carry the burden out of the station to the bus.  A dog so small by Philippa Pearce (Chapter 3, last line)

Here we have hand and handles in close succession.

Repetition of the same word or similar words usually has a jarring effect on the reader. Such flaws are minor and are almost impossible to avoid. They crop up regularly in my own writing. And I often find that I remove one such mistake only to introduce another of the same kind.

Of course, there are far more important things to get right than these trifles: to write a story that people like and find interesting would be one of them. First things first. I would quite happily leave hand and handles in close succession in any novel of mine, if it ended as movingly as Philippa Pearce’s A dog so small does.


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