Last month’s installment of “Ask An Author” was one of the most popular ever based on the number of comments from readers. Not sure we can match the response, but this month’s question is just as fascinating. Let’s see what some of the Author/editors on Gay Authors have to say.
Participants were selected by the member asking the question, and they're featured in alphabetical order.
Amateur writing can have some differences, and no one is perfect. As many of us on GA are, I am an author as well as an editor of others' work. I'm wondering if editing has affected how you enjoy reading in general? Do you lose the flow of a story because your 'editor eye' keys in on your perceived rules of writing? Are you quicker to dismiss a work because of mistakes than you used to be? What about published mainstream works... are you pickier? Does it make reading frustrating at times, especially when the story itself is good? If so, have you been able to overcome it over time?
Happy to answer any questions sent in by fellow GAers.
Since my vision problems and eye surgeries at the start of 2016, I haven't done as much editing as before; I now use narration software for my computer work, and my visual acuity isn't sufficient to notice the symbols most programs use. I limit myself to spelling and the flow, and suggesting a few word changes to make things smoother without changing the author's intent.
I always put the story first when reading, both in print and digital formats, so I can let a lot go by unless it truly mangles the sense and quality of a story. Learning German in college taught me that writing is more than the words themselves--you may have the right words, but making it sound good is almost an art. Modern programs can correct most spelling and word choice errors, but nothing can put in creativity and emotional punch if it's lacking.
My reading used to range from history and archaeology to poetry and fiction of many genres before 2016, and I'd read nearly all of my 6,000 books by then. Science-fiction and fantasy have always been major genres for me, but Literature became my major by default. What teen read Chaucer in Middle English in 10th grade, or the entire sixteen volumes of the Arabian Nights by Richard Burton by age 22?
I've been writing my own stuff since 5th grade, and some of it was truly awful. Back in 1969 when I began, there were no computers available to kids, and we learned reading from the 'Dick and Jane' readers in our first years; I moved on fast to real books above my grade level, and that joy remains even now though it's limited to online sources now. I got my first computer in 1990 from one of my first roommates after moving to Columbus, and found a few sites to read at, and a few to write interactively with others with an interest in ancient history--my Pompeii story is what I could salvage from that site before it went under about five years ago. About that time, I began reading here, and tried writing a few months later. My vision has slowed me down, but I'm not out yet.
One final thing to add: I learned my rules of writing and grammar before computers, so I don't adhere to any of the purported online 'experts' who claim dominance these days. Many of these guides are fine for writing articles or reports, but fiction derives far more of its impact from style rather than technical correctness that many consider of primary importance in digital media. Uniformity is an asset in the online community for global understanding, but it is a severe limitation to creativity as was once seen in regional language variants and fiction. How would Charles Dickens or James Whitcomb Riley fare in today's online world?
Editing was always tricky for me in that I wanted to preserve the author's meaning with as little alteration as possible, making the story the goal rather than technical perfection. One of the best books I read before my surgeries was a great example of this: it is a British science-fiction tale set in a post Atomic future as told by a young teen in his own then-current English of about 2600AD. The spelling defies all modern rules, as does the grammar, but the story itself is riveting and I highly recommend it--Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban.
It can be difficult. When I read, I find myself re-writing lines in my head of authors I really like. Some more than others. It makes me sensitive to grammatical errors and I try to ignore it, but if a story is too messy, it can pull me right out of headspace and make me stop reading. I haven't learned to ignore it yet, partially because my sadistic side likes to use the red pen. (for constructive purposes... honest.)
However, if the story is good enough, I can be more forgiving than I can if the story is just "all right." Turning off the correction vibe is real work some days.
Spotting mistakes in spelling and grammar is something I did long before I became an author. It’s always annoyed me. When I began writing stories for GA and had editors and readers point out my own blunders, I actually became more tolerant of the occasional typo. Because no matter how many times I (or my editors) go over my own stories, something always slips through. But I still notice mistakes whatever I read (online or printed), and I don’t think this will ever change.
Luckily, I’m usually able to enjoy the story, while rolling my eyes at the occasional blunder, unless the mistake makes something difficult to understand. However, really sloppy writing will destroy my pleasure in reading. If the story content is great, I try to grit my teeth and shoulder through, but fortunately, such cases are rare. It’s possible to be an average author with good technical writing skills (like me), but it’s unusual to find a great author with really bad grammar and spelling.
One of the great advantages about reading on GA is that I can send a message to authors to point out any mistakes I notice. Somehow, this possibility makes it much less frustrating to spot mistakes. Most authors (including me) appreciate such hints as helpful. In fact, I’ve gotten several editor jobs that way, which is a fair payment for being a busybody. On the other hand, if I edit for someone, I certainly expect any mistakes to be corrected (if I pointed them out and the author agreed). If they’re not fixed in the published version, that’s when I get annoyed and may send the poor author a grumbly message.
That's an excellent question! Yes, I think editing has changed the way I read. I do tend to notice people's mistakes a lot more. Though I've always been like that when it comes to online fiction, it's probably gotten worse. I do also notice stuff in published books. That might actually be one of the reasons why I prefer audiobooks nowadays, come to think of it; can't see the mistakes if I'm not reading them. It can break the flow and the immersion, but if the story's good, I can ignore a lot of mistakes and still enjoy it. Really good storytelling pulls me into the action and I'm less likely to notice the mechanical issues. If it's really obvious that English isn't the author's first language, I tend to make more allowances too, again provided it's a good enough story. I do try to give a story a chance and not dismiss it out of hand just because there are mistakes, but that only works up to a point; I'm probably a little quicker to give up on a poorly written story than I used to be. I often wish I had an off switch, so I could prevent myself from noticing mistakes, but I've never let my overly discerning eye prevent me from enjoying a really good story. At least I don't think I have, as good storytelling is to a point dependent on a decent handle on the craft of writing. Though I have had a tendency to contact authors whose stories I love and let them know they need an editor. Sometimes, I have offered to be that editor.
This is a fantastic question, and the answer to if editing has affected how I enjoy reading in general is an unequivocal ‘yes’. I discovered online fiction about twenty years ago and joined another site in 2003 (well before I’d ever heard of GA). I discovered a story on that site that quickly became my favorite. I even re-read it multiple times, and I rarely re-read online stories. The story had its share of detractors, and I thought they were nuts. I loved the story and thought it was well-written, so screw them! Several years ago, after I had started writing and editing, I decided to re-read that favored story. To say my eyes were opened is an understatement. While technically edited well, the story contains just about every gay fiction trope out there and is not what I consider good writing anymore. It felt like losing a good friend. I still enjoy the memory of it, but reading it is most definitely not the same.
The answer to the next couple of questions is also ‘yes’. Because the majority of reading I do now is with a critical eye, it can cause me to lose the flow of a story when I find errors. I am able to ignore the editor voice and continue reading, but it can be difficult at times to get back into the story. Because of this, I do tend to dismiss works that are riddled with mistakes. I consider writing a craft, and as authors, we should be looking to better our craft. If a story contains multiple errors within the first paragraph, or even the story description itself, I’ll generally give it a pass. If the story title has an error, then I’m pretty much guaranteed to move on to something else.
That being said, when reading amateur online fiction, I try to overlook errors and concentrate on the story itself. If the author is a good storyteller, I’ll continue reading, especially if it’s a newer author. We all started somewhere, and I cringe at some of my early writing.
I hold published mainstream works to a higher standard, since those would have gone through professional editing and review. Finding errors in those is disappointing and disheartening, as it’s something I’ve paid for vs. free online fiction. I won’t get started on errors in professional writing, like news stories or articles. And sometimes Facebook makes me weep for the English language, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.
Y’all stay safe out there, and we’ll be back in July.