When our writing heroes get it wrong

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
We all have our favourite authors and we devour their books as loyal fans. If reading a series, it can be frustrating if your local library doesn’t have Book 2, as happened to me last year working my way through James Oswald’s Inspector McLean spooky crime novels.

I read Book 3 aware that something catastrophic had happened in the previous story, a house fire and a major personal loss for the detective. I bought a copy of The Book of Souls for £2 on eBay and all was explained.

I’m halfway through writing the sixth book in my Cornish Detective series, struggling with ways to integrate my protagonist’s new love life into his investigations. Maintaining the quality of writing throughout a series is a worry: is the characterisation stronger than the plotting in that story; does the next book have a brilliant plot, but the villain is unbelievably evil?

Some authors have followed their main character through many tales. Arthur Conan Doyle penned more than sixty novels and short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. James Lee Burke has written 23 Dave Robicheaux novels. Jo Nesbø is a dozen stories into his Harry Hole series. I read his last investigation The Knife in bewilderment, as the copy I’d borrowed from the library appeared to be close to a galley proof edition as it contained many spelling and punctuation and spacing errors. Such a thing is out of Jo Nesbø’s control, but one mistake looked to be more like his, which gave me some Schadenfreude.

Towards the end of The Knife Nesbø wrote a scene where Harry Hole is sitting by a river observing swans swimming past. He compares their necks and heads to question marks. Hmm, thinks I, that’s good enough to pinch for a future story. A few pages later, Harry is in bed making love (Nesbø’s creation does more shagging than any sleuth!) and his partner reaches down to grab his cock which “resembled a swan’s neck.”

I laughed out loud! What? Is his penis curved and covered in white feathers? Does it, perchance, have a yellow beak on the end?! ;)

This mistake could be a translation error from the Norwegian original, though that’s difficult to believe.

We discussed writing and plotting errors in an old thread:


It’s kind of encouraging when we find such blunders in published books, isn’t it? Even especially if they are made by our writing heroes

Have you found any?

I’ve just started reading the sequel to the Hunger Games - which I’ve just re-read as I embark on another edit of my own book - and straight away I’m noticing a difference. The economy of description that I was so inspired me n the first book isn’t quite, so far, of the same standard. The character and plot mechanics seem a little more obvious. I dunno, maybe I’m being too critical but I do wonder if, after massive success with a first book in a series, you could then take your foot off the gas a bit?

Either way, thanks Paul, I’ll never look at swans in quite the same way now!
I mentioned in the most recent Writers' Huddle that in "The Stand", Steven King begins too consecutive sentences with "He stood there for a moment..." I suffered whiplash when I read that and kept going back over it, thinking I had to be imagining things. It's a minor thing as they go, but the idea that such a celebrated author had done that, missed it in editing, and so had any beta readers and editors...wow.

Still, that book is about four hundred million words long, so if that's the most glaring error I suppose he's still ahead.
As I've listening to audiobooks more, the "mistakes" and repetitions that slip through even in major bestsellers is much more glaring. Instead of focusing on those "errors," however, it reminds me of how forgiving readers are when the story is amazing. @Andy D when I read the Hunger Games series (over the course of four days, if I remember correctly), I never noticed a change in the tightness of the writing, though I'm sure if I picked up the sequels today, I would probably agree with you. I did however, dislike a lot of the character decisions and plot choices as a reader. And those are what stick out to me when I think of the series. And you know even today, I remember the amazing sense of urgency and sympathy for the characters that carried me through those books. I could not put them down.

I think it is a very good reminder that normal readers don't pick up a book and then put it down in disgust because of adverb overuse or repetitious language. If they love a character and get hooked on a plot, they will be your ride or die.
put it down in disgust because of adverb overuse or repetitious language. If they love a character and get hooked on a plot, they will be your ride or die.

Yes, we need to remember this, it boils down to finding your voice and "writing like you don't care what people think" (can't remember where I heard that!). Not all readers are writers. And as writers, we can't please everyone.
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SF space technology terms: a resource direct from NASA

Just a reminder - The Flash Club for Feb will close soon.