Someone said that “life is in the details.” I take that to mean that we really only see the big picture of life when we look at the past or the future. In the present moment, we only see the details. I see the computer screen, I feel my fingers typing, I see my orange cat sleeping on the desk. I know I am hungry for lunch and need to take a shower and go out and run some errands this afternoon. I live in the details.
It is the same with writing. A novelist wants her readers to appreciate and enjoy the totality of her novel, but she writes it chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, word by word. And an error can trip up the reader and cause her to lose the flow of the story. A reader can be caught by a detail that makes her stop and think –” I’ve noticed a mistake in this writer’s work. What other mistakes has she made that I have not noticed?”
In a novel I read recently, the author described the French press in the kitchen whistling away to tell them the coffee was ready. Anyone familiar with a French press knows that it doesn’t whistle at all — it simply sits there until someone pushes the plunger and pours the coffee. This small error caught me up short. Another error of language that I noticed recently in a novel was simply a mistake in terminology in different parts of the country. I know that in southern California, people use “the” before the number of a highway, as in “the 5.” I drive up and down I-95 between Pennsylvania and North Carolina quite often, and I can assure you it is never referred to as “the 95,” as this author did.
While these are small errors, they always make me pause and wonder if the author just didn’t do his or her research, or was in a hurry, or thought it just didn’t matter. Of course, it also speaks to the importance of an editor.
I also do some freelance editing, and I am always on the lookout for small mistakes that can hurt the credibility of an author.
How important do you think these small errors are, either as a writer or as a reader? As a reader, do they catch you up short and interrupt the flow of the story?