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Manauscipt "error" types

I am trying to come up with a Word template for writing that includes all the tools one could need. Now, a lot of this is obvious, but the part I am thinking about now is reviewing. I want the template to allow easy feedback simply by defining error types (as styles) that a reviewer can quickly apply without needing to ellaborate - highlight, apply style and allow the author to figure out themselves how and where the real issue lies.

So far, I have eighteen error types:

  • Anachronism : the word used is inappropriate for the setting.
  • Clichéd phrasing* : overused, unoriginal and tired descriptives.
  • Confusing* : section (potentially spanning paragraphs) that is too messy to understand; also includes the scattershot sequence. (Uses separate markers for the beginning and end of the confusing section.)
  • Continuity error : the detail contradicts a prior mention of the same thing, including characterisation inconsistency.
  • Dialogue tag : a non-said dialogue tag is being used excessively, or in quick succession.
  • Dull phrasing : phrasing is unimaginitive and flat.
  • Excessive emphasis : overuse of italics to provide emphasis.
  • Filtering : unwanted psychic distance is being created, distancing the reader from the point-of-view character.
  • Infodump : too much world-building or backstory information dumped on the reader, breaking the story's flow
  • Linguistic convolution : the language used is heavy-handed, or confuses itself.
  • On-the-nose dialogue : dialogue is too verbose, explaining what should be conveyed through subtext.
  • Passive voice : the phrasing inverts subject and object, making for a weak sentence.
  • PoV error : the description of events slips out of the point-of-view character's perception, detailing things they would not witness, or head hopping.
  • Punctuation issue* : incorrect punctuation, such as comma splices, bad speech marks, etc.
  • Reality shift : a detail (usually an element of convenience) that is inconsistent with reality
  • Repetitious vocabulary* : the repetitive use of less-standard words in quick succession.
  • Telling not showing : the section tells where showing would be more appropriate.
  • Typo : should be obvious…

The question: are there any other common error types that can be easily called out, other than the custom ones that require explanation?

(I will edit the above list to add suggestions, to reduce the risk of repetition in replies. Items marked * taken from feedback below.)

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Replies (54)
    • This sounds like an interesting project, Rick. What about punctuation issues. Comma splice sentences. Incorrect punctuation around speech etc.

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      • Good one, Kate.

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      • What a brilliant idea, Rick!

        Repeated words in close proximity, maybe? Sometimes a choice, of course, so not necessarily an error, but when accidental rather than deliberate sometimes easy to miss when writing.

        Or would that come under 'typo'?

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        • Hoorah!! 😃 

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          • And that gets marked with Kate's punctuation issue; can't be having double exclamation points.

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            • 😂

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            • Added Excessive emphasis to the original list.

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              • Not sure if this would count on POV slips but what about head jumping for third person?  Switching POV's excessively during a scene can cause a lot of confusion as well.  It's something I struggle with.

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                • I would put that under PoV errors. Updating description to include it.

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                • Switches of tense? I'm always mixing my tenses

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                  • I could ask why you would then lurk in such places… Masochism?

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                    • Well, as with many such forums, there's diamonds to be found among the rubble! 😄 

                      Occasionally I contribute to the rubble. Occasionally someone helps me polish a piece of rubble. And very occasionally I might be able to help someone else polish a piece of rubble. Even more occasionally the rubble turns out to be a very dull and dirty diamond in the rough.

                      And if all else fails, it's a good way to remind myself that I'm not alone in sitting at a desk in despair wrangling words and plot points as if unsuccessfully wrestling Proteus!

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                      • I think 'He shot an arrow at the dragon and it falls from the sky.' is a rather lovely way of slowing down an important moment :-)

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                      • I'm not sure how to term it but how about a bullet point around originality of expression i.e. clichés; overuse of physical ticks such as 'she shuddered with fear'. I also wonder if this covers telling emotions instead of showing them. It's not very original to say 'she was angry' although not sure about that last point. 

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                        • Clichéd phrasing definitely deserves to be on the list, and while your example makes it appear similar to Telling not showing, I think it's generally quite distinct.

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                        • Clarity. As in, what's actually happening? I don't understand.

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                          • That is, ironically enough, one of the toughest to define, despite being "obvious." Not because it is unclear, but because it isn't based on a few words; it can span paragraphs, even pages.

                            Do you think it would work as two markers, to place at the beginning and ends of the confusing block, thus allowing it to span other sections?

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                            • That would work.

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                              • Added, and it includes the scattershot sequence in the same category.

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                              • Argh! An obvious one missed: Passive voice.

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                                • Additional question. Which if these categories would excessive adjectives fall into?

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                                  • Does this one start to encroach a bit into genuine matters of style, perhaps?

                                    I know there's a generally accepted rule against the 'overuse' of adjectives (and adverbs) and it's certainly something that should be looked for in an edit, but the quantification of such modifiers as 'excessive' is so subjective.

                                    I'm currently reading a wonderful fantasy novel ('Gideon the Ninth' by Tamsyn Muir). She makes heavy use of modifiers, even double modifiers, throughout the book. It gives her prose a baroque, ornate richness which is perfect for the book (which reads like the gobby, twisted sister of Mervyn Peake's 'Gormenghast' books... and I mean that as the highest of compliments!). Of course, her choice of modifers is all-important... and they're often odd, occasionally provocative, always inventive, and trigger a compellingly immersive sense of atmosphere and presence, particularly as they're often contrasted with very direct and contemporary slang.

                                    It's brilliant writing. But I suspect would score an E minus in the 'excessive adjectives' test! 😀 

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                                    • You're right. It is subjective. Though in a sense, your example proves that heavy use wouldn't necessarily be counted as excessive; you don't feel that Muir's use is excessive.

                                      Maybe the measure of excess is that removal doesn't detract from or change the reader's impression.

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                                      • Of course, that should have been excessive adverbs rather than adjectives. They are the more common culprits.

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                                      • What a fabulous idea. I've read through some of the comments above, and I don't think there's much else I can add.

                                        The only thing I'd think would be elongated/convoluted sentences, however I think this is probably covered in 'Confusing' section. Specifically, I'm thinking about huge long sentences which could be broken up into perhaps two or three. I've come across quite a lot of these, and can be guilty of it myself. Not necessarily confusing, just long. 

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                                        • Thanks Rose. Yes, I agree that the overly long, cumbersome sentence probably fits into confusing, though it is different, in that Confusing is intended to be used actross multiple paragraphs… So I might need a separate single-sentence Confusing.

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                                        • The first use of this system has turned up four more:

                                          • Anachronism
                                          • Dull phrasing
                                          • On-the-nose dialogue
                                          • Passive voice 

                                          I've added them to the list.

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                                          • Excellent. What about dodgy dialogue? (The most common crimes being using dialogue as an info dump, having people speak too correctly and over use of slang/accents.)

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                                            • Argh. So much specificity. At least the infodump is an infodump whether in dialogue or surrounding prose, so that's covered.

                                              The over'y-correct dialogue probably falls under Anachronism. Though it - and slang/accents - is probably something to call out only once or twice and mark with a comment, allowing the author to go back and find all the other instances for themselves rather than marking us each one.

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                                            • You haven't mentioned narrative distance - inappropriate use of, or not enough variety in. Personally I list this under point of view though I list just about everything under point of view. E.g. all characters speak the same way - author isn't seeing each character's viewpoint/background/habits/beliefs. Too much description interrupting the action - author isn't thinking enough about the reader's viewpoint and what's important to them. Story lacking direction or bogged down - author hasn't thought enough about their own POV and what they're trying/want to say. Incorrect paragraphing - perhaps author doesn't know how paragraphs help manipulate POV and narrative distance.

                                              As I try to see other writers' POVs, I can see this approach might not be especially helpful:-)

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                                              • All very relevant issues, Libby, though most not things that can easily be marked as a small part of the text. They mostly need comments, and apply to a group of elements taken together (for example, the sequence of multiple people's speech).

                                                Are you thinking of a type of narrative distance different from filtering (which is in the list)?

                                                And I know exactly what you mean about the paragraphing - I'm reviewing something at the moment that has that issue in spades. But is it even possible to mark those up? One mark for add break, another for remove? Again, I suspect this is a case where either general instruction of the rules needs to be provided, or direct editing with tracked changes.

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                                                • Yes, you're right about the paragraph example and probably this kind of problem applies to other things too. You can either say new para or run-on but if someone seems not to know how to use paragraphs, it will take some explaining or use of links to sites which can do the job for you. I suppose it comes down to the kind of edit you've agreed to do? How much of a teacher or temporary mentor do you want to be? And then you also get into the style issue of some genres and authors liking more paragraph changes and white space than others.

                                                  By narrative distance I mean the whole range from omniscient narrator to stream of consciousness. This is a wider category, I think, under which comes filtering and showing versus telling.

                                                  Most authors seem to plump for the middle range: a narrator who directly accesses only one or perhaps three POVs at most, and when they do so they use either quite a lot of filtering or less filtering according to their own writing style. And they might use a lot of telling to good effect. All of which is absolutely fine when it works. It only gets boring when the narrator seems stuck in one particular narrative distance from their POV character(s) but doesn't seem in control - is stuck because that's all they can do at this stage of their authorly development. They rarely shift to and fro even a little way along the narrative distance range, which in practice also often means describing their characters with lots of filtering and he and his, she and her(s), keeping the reader at a constant distance. And then there are the very successful authors who choose a rather rigid narrative position and the result is really good. See The Alarming Palsy of James Orr In this novella there's lots of filtering, but Tom Lee is very good at showing rather than telling. We feel engaged in the story but at an emotional remove. This is appropriate for an MC who is emotionally removed himself. 

                                                  Does this help? Am I telling you how to suck eggs?

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                                                  • Very good points, Libby.

                                                    Though I would say this is a level of markup feedback well beyond what a template can achieve. Indeed, any level of structural edit markup can't viaably be achieved with a predefined set of flags. There is simply too much variety, too much context. Every instance is unique.

                                                    Likewise, authorial style - and basic understanding of prose structure - is something that can only be addressed with holistic feedback. perhaps a few examples, but it's not something anyone but the author should be addressing in the fine detail of every instance.

                                                    What I am aiming for here is a tool to assist with a later level of feedback, when one is starting to polish the prose. How feedback is applied should be contingent upon a clearly discernable authorial style.

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                                                  • The only problem being - If I applied all that my manuscript would never get finished...

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                                                    • Until you do, is it finished?

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                                                    • Plus I don't understand some of these things like: 

                                                      • Passive voice : the phrasing inverts subject and object, making for a weak sentence.
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                                                      • Active voice is where the subject takes the action: Subject hits object.

                                                        Passive voice, fundamentally, inverts the grammar: Subject (formetly object) is hit by object (formerly subject).

                                                        It's the same events, but active voice is more present, more engaging. Passive voice is a wet squib.

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                                                      • Thanks Rick - I need to go back to school I think...

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                                                        • Don't beat yourself up over it, Danny. Even understanding the principles, it's all too easy to write passive.

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                                                        • Hi Rick,

                                                          Not sure it has the specificity your looking for? but here goes.

                                                          RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain. It has a foot in ‘unwanted psychic distance’, a foot in ‘telling not showing’, a foot (it is multi-footed) in ‘on the nose dialogue’, and even a foot in ‘infodump’. It can also live in 'explanatory dialogue tags' and (sin of sins for most prose) come across as the author talking directly to the reader.

                                                          An example would be: “The snows getting heavier,” he said commenting on the terrible weather. Everything after ‘he said’ is (obviously) unnecessary explaining.

                                                          But the Urge to Explain can be a much subtler beast making it hard to spot. Especially as it often starts life as a way of the author orientating themselves in the story. (See that! ‘in the story’ was me falling into unnecessary explaining -- you already know I’m talking about a story).

                                                          How to catch the blighters? The best I’ve come up with so far is making an audio file -- they are easier to hear than to see.

                                                          All the best with the list. I'd be interested to see suggestions for tips of how to spot these issues in the edit. Such as word searches for key words (a group of the 'had' clan can indicate a infodump).

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                                                          • Thanks Heather.

                                                            There RUEs sound like me dancing: three left feet.

                                                            I think Redundant explanation captures the elements that aren't already covered.

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                                                            • The audio idea is a great way to spot things that you miss when you just read it visually. Sometimes something is way more obvious when heard out loud. I already talk to myself so the kids wouldn’t notice if I was recording my story!

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                                                              • Hi Kate,

                                                                If you don't want to record it all yourself (although this can be a good way to spot issues) but maybe its too long, then you can download free software that will convert MS word files (including whole books) into an audio file.

                                                                The voices are quite robotic (like the voice on MS Word - but not limited to 1500 characters) But even hearing it in a robotic way gives a valuable extra perspective. The free software I went with (Linguatec) creates MP3 files that I listen to when I'm doing all the non-writing stuff that I can't get out of doing.

                                                                My tip would be to slow down the reading speed before you convert the file, because you want time to process and make notes. It's also a good excuse to live in your dressing gown - MP3 in one pocket, notebook in the other.

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                                                              • Hi Rick.

                                                                It’s me again (don’t sigh). I just wanted to mention that KM Wieland’s website has a ‘Most Common Writing Mistakes’ list (64 common mistakes listed). It includes some that none of us have mentioned yet. But, of course, some are more harmful than others.

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                                                                • Do you have a link?

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                                                                  • Found it. Here.

                                                                    A lot of it is structural - things that can only be picked up at a higher level where comments are more relevant than calling out individual bits of prose. The only one that stood out as perhaps wanting to be added to the list is Purple prose, which I had considered. But happy to consider others as well if anyone thinks they are worthy of inclusion.

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                                                                    • Rick - How about one that says "This is great!"?

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                                                                      • I being great an error?

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