Pet Peeves in Writing and Critiquing

When I'm copy editing, I know that I've got a couple things I am going to hunt for – namely making sure all the Oxford commas are in place (I know, I know, that's a style choice, not grammar) and using em-dashes instead of hyphens where appropriate.

When it comes to critiquing (on Scribophile) / developmental editing, I find that there are a couple of things that can really push my buttons – jaw dropped, plaintive cries, muttering 'why? just... no. why?', expansive, angry gestures at the screen, occasionally putting my head down on the table to just stop looking at the screen, etc.. Buttons. Pushed. What can I say? Acting out my emotions makes me feel better.

This time it was a combination of the idiot ball with something that didn't make sense emotionally in a combat scene. Now one person's idiot ball is another person's 'that character is already characterized as incompetent'. And reasonable people can disagree on whether something was stupid to do. 

But argh!! Secondary characters don't switch off and stand in the background while your main character has a physical fight with secondary character's relative. Especially a relative they've been shown on screen to have a relationship with. The secondary character should be doing something – scream at either combatant, wade in on one side or the other, something.

Look. Characters who have been stated to be competent enough to survive 30 years of being actively hunted by a big bad, 1) don't physically knock out characters they aren't trying to kill by hitting them over the head with a lamp, 2) do not fail to restrain knocked-out characters in any way (handcuff, rope, something) when they want to talk to them later, and 3) walk into another room with no line of sight on the knocked out character in order to perform research for hours on end. It's just bad tactics... Look, I've got no military training, no police work training, and no medical training (not even a recent first aid course) and I can tell you that
1) clonking someone over the head can produce a concussion, concussions can cause you to throw up, and if you're unconscious while vomiting, unless you're in the recovery position, you can asphyxiate on your own vomit; and,
2) you cannot predict how long someone will be unconscious for, so if you really want them to remain in place, restraints are necessary. Otherwise they could quietly come-to and sneak out. Especially if you CLOSE THE DOOR in between you and them.

It really didn't help that the main character had been established as working for a quasi-military police agency for a period before the book opened either.

The important take-away though for me is this – have a plan to spot these type of things before I ever send a first draft off to critiquers. Whatever my plan, I will miss plot holes and somethings will just not work emotionally for some critiquers or beta readers. BUT I really want to minimize those problems.

So, what's my plan? Well, first I am a planner (not a seat-of-the-pantsing-it writer), so during the outlining phase I should note places I know I'm not very knowledgable in and build a research points list. Second, do the research. I don't think I can emphasize that point enough for myself. Third, once I've got a first draft, I need to set it aside for a little bit and then reread it for anything I can spot. Fourth, I need to read it out loud (preferably to my partner, but his plants will do).

Honestly, that's sounding a lot like a general editing plan. So maybe this is more an 'add looking specifically for X issue during editing' issue than a separate plan for dealing with idiot balls. That's actually a relief – it's easier to add things to the 'things to look for' list than adding steps to my editing process.


Things to Look for While Editing

  1. Misspellings
  2. Lack of dialogue tags / Unattributed dialogue
  3. Parenthetical asides
  4. Go-to words
    1. So
    2. Actually
  5. Idiot balls / Player Character Logic
    1. Is this something a reasonably competent person could realize they should NOT do, while not pressured for time?
    2. Is the character pressured for time?
    3. Is the character generally competent in the area under question?
  6. Emotional black holes – do people have feelings / reactions to the world around them at all times (even if it doesn't noticeably show up on screen right that second, it may affect later scenes, so I should know how they feel).

This list will grow, of this I am certain.