How to Trap a Typo

If you’re not a writer, you may not understand how the subtlety of a misspelled word like deosn’t or Seeems  can get past us in the editing process. In Death Has a Name, I referred to “chair” as “char” at least five times. The sad part is that on ONE of those times, it went through me, my editor, five beta readers and my wife’s very critical eye. Finally, one very persistent reader noted it and was kind enough to email me about the typo.

We search. We hunt. Our fingers don’t always obey our brains, and the words can get jumbled. But the worst part of it is that our brains don’t ever want to admit that they were wrong. Instead, as your eyes take in the written words, your brain notices the broken vase on the floor, lifts the corner of the rug — you know, that thought about last wednesday’s lasagna. Mmm.. that was tasty — and sweeps the misspelled word right underneath, hiding it from even the most watchful eye.

Why? Because the brain is incredible at finding patterns and interpreting them, even if the pattern itself is damaged. For example: Read the following sentence:

Tihs snetnece hsa ervy snigle wrod srcabmled.

Now, you may have had to slow down a bit, but the sentence above is still quite legible in your mind. Your brain could look at the letters and formulate the intent of the author. Imagine if you’re reading along at 4-5 words per second (a fairly quick clip), and your brian sees a misspelled word. Do you really catch it, or does your mind solve the riddle before you even have a chance to process the letters individually?

Well? Did you catch it? Look again. “… and your brian sees a misspelled word.” See? You missed it, too!

Yes, we hire editors, and they help us with so much more than finding typos. They help us find plot inconsistencies, rework paragraphs that make the brain fumble words. They help us work through scenes to take you, our loyal readers, deep into the story and really paint a vivid color image. We may draw the black-and-white outlines, but a good editor will help you put color on the page and turn the great story into something magical.

But editors aren’t the end of the typo. They help, and they do a great job, but just because a typo gets through, please don’t assume that the author is an ignorant hick or that the editor didn’t do a good job. Sometimes these things just happen.

If you are a writer, you know what I mean. Here’s a few quick tips to help catch those pesky typos to help our editor friends and to give our readers a higher-quality of product.

1) Use a spell-checker. This will catch some of them. This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen some very basic typos that a good spell-check would have easily caught. But what about “Brian” and “Brain”? Char and Chair? See and Seen? Those are all valid words, but not the words that we intended to use.

2) To fight those, have an electronic reading device read it back to you. I use the Text-To-Speech option on my kindle. Hearing a story goes through a much different mental process than reading. It goes through a different part of the brain. You’ve read your story so many times that those parts of the brain have already developed mental pathways. But when you hear a wrong word spoken (and computers are very unforgiving) you have a chance to stop the program and check the word carefully with your own eyes, forcing them to evaluate the position of each individual letter.

3) Hire more than one editor. One set of eyes is good. Two is exponentially better. Some editors focus on typos and grammar usage, while others focus on plot and consistency. It’s good to hire one of each to really flesh out your story anyway. But nine-times-of-ten the second editor will find the items that the first editor let slip through because they are approaching the story from a different point of view.

So the next time you see a typo, cut the team a little slack. If there are so many that it pulls you out of the story, then the author deserves criticism. But if you find ONE in the entire book, come on… give a guy (or gal) a break.

Authors: What typos have consistently plagued you in the pre-editing process?

One thought on “How to Trap a Typo”

  1. Jerry – just read Death Has A Name and was lurking about your website. I didn’t see a place to email you directly, but I was hoping to send you a quick note on my thoughts about your book and see if you were in the market for a freelance proofreader. From this post, I am guessing you have some editing help already. But if you are ever interested in another set of eyes, let me know!

Leave a Reply