Pet Peeves That Matter

Hey folks,

Pet peeves — you know, those little flaws and inanities that grind away on the nerves and cause me to close novels and put them in the Goodwill box?

They’re horrible. Mostly because they keep me from continuing to read what otherwise might be a good story.

I don’t look for problems while I’m reading. I just read for pleasure. Like any other reader, when I buy a book, I automatically suspend my sense of disbelief. All the writer has to do is not put it back in place. Especially with a suppository.

I want to be transported to the writer’s fictional world and I want to enjoy the experience. I don’t want my conscious mind engaged with obvious problems.

But when I’ve been interrupted the second or third time, especially with the same problem, I’m done.

Sometimes the problem is large. Continual misspellings and typos, for example. But sometimes it boils down to a repeated wrong usage. One that displays the linguistic ignorance of the writer.

But hey, kicked-out of a story is still kicked-out, no matter the reason. And often it’s the little things that kick me out of a story.

So I guard against those in my own writing, and I pass my thoughts on them along so maybe other writers will guard against them too.

In every case, it is the writer’s responsibility to hold the reader’s interest. Or looking at it in the negative, it’s the writer’s responsibility not to drive the reader away.

The particular pet peeves for this time are those annoying little signs that the writer doesn’t know the difference between a noun and an adjective.

When I read “She slipped into the backseat” it drives me nuts. Same thing with “He went into the backyard.”

When you write “backyard” or “backseat” as a single word, it’s an adjective. It should be followed with a noun (the one that it describes), such as “backyard garden” or “backyard swingset” or “backseat driver.”

When you use those words to indicate a certain location, they become a two-word phrase. So it would be the “back yard” or the “back seat.”

Other similar words and phrases include “sometime” and “some time.” I’m sure you can think of many others.

For some folks, it might take some time to understand this. But sometime or other, they’ll get it if they’re just a little diligent. (grin)

Another problem, and one less easy to catch (hence the need for a first reader and/or a copyeditor) are homophones.

When I read “He slipped his arm around her waste,” (waist) I’m done. Likewise when a rancher goes into town to buy some “hey” (hay) for his horses. Likewise when a character says “Everything will be alright” (all right).

That last one might not bother me if it’s used in a more appropriate context. For example, (the character quickly dusts his palms against each other and says), “Alright, we’re done here.” Or in dialect, having concluded a bit of distasteful business in southern Louisiana, says “A’ight t’en,” and walks away. (grin)

Some will argue that many readers wouldn’t notice or catch a misuse such as those above. My take is, knowing the difference is part of the craft of writing. And why risk it?

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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4 thoughts on “Pet Peeves That Matter”

  1. Homophones are tough. Spell-checkers don’t pick them up. Apparently editors don’t always pick them up: I read a book recently from one of the big 5 that had a homophone. I’ve scene several in Dean’s work.

    I’m trying to tame my critical voice because I find that it’s often this little a**hole that pulls me out of other peoples stories. I’ve ripped apart so many stories critically that it’s bean difficult to get back to reading for pleasure. Little things keep catching my eye.

    For example, my newest pet peeve is the word “flat”. Not flat like, “I believe in a Flat earth” but as in, “I FLAT don’t care.” Never once saw it used in this fashion until I started reading Dean’s blog. Then when I started reading his fiction I found that he uses it ALL THE TIME. It’s one of his tells and it pulls me out of the story with every occurrence.

    Ah, me and my crazy brain.

    • Homophones are one reason to have a good first reader. Often, reading your work aloud with help with this too.

      I’ve seen and hear “flat” and “flat-out” used that way most of my life. “I flat don’t like it” or “I flat-out don’t like it.” (grin) But overuse of any “pet” word or phrase can be annoying.

      I was reading a Stephen King work awhile back (The Dome) and loving the story. Then all of a sudden he (or the layout person) were using ALL CAPS and sometimes even BOLD ALL CAPS (in “all of a sudden we came upon a STOP sign”), and I couldn’t go on.

  2. FWIW, I will NEVER be able to read “alright” without cringing. Miss Cook, my 7th grade English teacher, would turn over in her grave. Luckily, I’m sure I’ll be dead before it becomes acceptable usage. But it will pull me out of the story, Every Single Time.

    • Another one that bugs me is “till” (for ’til, the abbreviation of “until”). 🙂

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