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Best-selling novelist Charlotte Boyett-Compo gives us a humorous insight on why it's important to proofread our work.

Proofing Your Story
Charlotte Boyett-Compo

It was a gray January day in the midst of one of Iowa's infamous blizzards. The snow had already drifted half-way up our den windows and the roads were rapidly becoming impassable.

Suddenly--out of the snow-laden West--came the sound of a mighty steed winding its way to my door. I looked at my husband, Buddha Belly, and frowned. What manner of beast could make it through that treacherous cascade of icy danger?

With thundering heart, I ran to the front door and--lo and behold!--it was my ever-faithful and diligent UPS man: Kerry of the Northlands of Marshall! I flung open the door, holding my breath as he waded through tall drifts and swirling snow.

"Come, valiant messenger!" I cried out. "Rest yourself at our warm hearth!"

"Nay, milady," my gallant one denied. "I hast many a delivery to make this foul day."

With sinking heart, for I feared for his safety, I took the parcel he held out to me. With tears streaking down my cold cheeks, I thanked him profusely-this humble and stalwart warrior who wouldst not let a little snow impede his appointed rounds (not like some OTHER warriors I've known!) and watched him climb back onboard his dark brown steed and rumble back the way he'd come.

"Godspeed, mighty brown-clad warrior!" I called out to him as he waved goodbye.

Carrying the precious bundle that Kerry had risked life and limb to bring to me, I went back into the den and, with tears streaming announced to my waiting husband:


Oh, glorious day! Rejoicing! Dancing around the dual-reclining sofa! Hopping o'er the oak coffee table! Doing the Watusi with the cats! Then finally, sinking gratefully into my recliner . . . red pen in hand!

Buddha Belly--grinning from ear to ear--placed himself in the matching recliner and also took red pen to hand. After I read a page, he'd take it and go over that which I had missed. Since this was the first time he was reading 'The Work', I kept glancing over at him to see how he was doing. When I started noticing the smile slowly drifting from his handsome face, I became worried.

After about twenty minutes of sitting there reading, I began to fume.

Then smolder.

Then burn.

When B.B. finally looked up--sniffing the air--he swears he saw smoke coming out of my ears.

That well may be true for what I was reading had set my nasty Celtic berserker temper on fire.

Imagine, if you will a mighty black war horse crossing a river only to come out on the other side a gray mare! Must have been an eye opener for his rider, whom I'm sure never realized there were both piranha and high concentrations of chlorine bleach in the rivers of Scotland.

"Ye, gads!" I remember shouting as flames erupted from my head.

Buddha Belly--after hosing me down with CO2--shook his head and asked: "How many more mistakes do you think you might have made in this manuscript, Pogglehead?"

Allowing that disgraceful and insulting sobriquet to pass over my still-smoldering noggin', I narrowed my eyes and began to proofread that manuscript with a vengeance. I counted 326 misspelled words, misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, and just plain stupid mistakes. By this time I was shrieking like a fire engine and ran pell-mell to my office to retrieve my copy of the manuscript. When placed side by side, I found only twenty-five mistakes I had made. The rest had been made by the editor of the publishing house who had changed things to suit her tastes. Obviously she was a bleached blond who had sat just a little too long under the dryer.

Example: The word 'Sweeting' is a viable medieval form of endearment. It might not be an actual word, but then again, neither are a lot of words writers use. To blithely go about making a change to the word 'sweetie' is both an insult and an amazing act of stupidity. Knights in shining armor did NOT call their ladies 'sweetie'. Nor did dastardly villains smirk: "Ah, Sweetie Prince, but there you are wrong!" (A brazen case of not paying attention when using the 'replace with' feature!")

Whose fault was this? Some of it mine for not making a notation on the manuscript to indicate these were words that should be used. A lot of it was the fault of the proofreading editor who made some of the most ridiculous changes I've ever had the misfortune of reading. To give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she'd only read Westerns up until then, but that did not excuse the blatant castration of my dangerous destrier!

If you are going to use words you have made up or phrases with which the proofreader may not be familiar, do yourself a favor and attach a note to that effect. You certainly don't want the integrity of your story to be either diminished or compromised because some faceless wonder somewhere out there in Proof World dropped piranha in a Scottish river.

The thing about proofreading, though, is no matter how many times a writer goes over his or her own work, the chances he or she will overlook the same mistake is a sure bet. You are not looking for that mistake. You know what you meant. You don't see it. This is reason enough for giving your manuscript to a DISINTERESTED third party who has never read it before; someone who will look at it from an English teacher's viewpoint and blithely make the necessary notations that mark a mistake.

So do yourself a huge favor: Before sending out your precious baby into the cold world of publication, make sure he's dressed correctly. Make sure his nose is clean and there is nothing dangling from his little chin. Polish him up until he shines and is as squeaky clean as you can get him. THEN, turn him over to the neighbor (you know the one: The lady they call the Neighborhood Watch!) and let her give him the once over. You'll be glad you did.

And so will the editor who reads your work.

. . . . . . .

Charlotte "Charlee" Boyett-Compo is the author of over thirty books, the first nine of which are the WindLegend Saga which began with THE WINDKEEPER. She was the first author to be published by Twilight Times Books, now Dark Star Publications. Recently, Charlee won Inscription Magazine's 2000 Engraver Award for Favorite E-Author and The Writecharm's Simply Charming Award for promoting e-books and their authors worldwide. Her sci-fi/futuristic novel, BloodWind, stayed on Dark Star Publications bestseller list for over 18 months and has now been released in paperback. It was named as one of the Best Books of 1999 at eBook Connections as was her dark historical, In the Wind's Eye. Her psychological thriller, In the Heart of the Wind, was recently nominated for a 2000 R.I.O Award and has been named as one of the Best Books of 2000 at Inscriptions and was awarded a Reviewer's Choice Award at Scribe's World.


For more information about Charlee and where you can purchase her books, visit her website
Read a dowse interview with Charlee

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