I remember the first mistake I ever found in a novel.
A tiny thing, a minor henchman in one of Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels (either Mariel of Redwall or Mattimeo, it was one of the ones I owned, not one borrowed from the library), who was described as a “her” first, and then as “him” elsewhere in the text. A nothing typo that had no impact on the adventure and didn’t change the character’s arc or eventual demise.
Served the varmint right, attacking the Abbey.
But I remember being stunned by the oversight.
Floored that Mr. Jacques, whose books gave me some of my earliest lessons in world building, dialect crafting, and weaving multiple narratives together, would allow a mistake of this magnitude.
At a time in my life when books were sacrosanct, not to be written in, I considered taking a pen and correcting my copy. Deciding once and for all the gender of this stoat (or were they a weasel? Definitely not a rat, because rats were almost always the lead villains, not the henchmen).
I remember telling myself that I, when I eventually exploded into the literary market as a fully formed and much lauded novelist, would never be so careless with my characters. That I would never forget any details about anything I ever wrote.
Sweet naiveté, thy name was Jenni.
Not only have I forgotten details from the one novel I’ve published; apparently I’m forgetting details of my research even as I enter the last hours of editing. Earlier this week, one of my mother’s comments as she proofread my doctoral thesis was: “Wasn’t the creature made in Ingolstadt, not Geneva?”
Yes. Yes he was.
Something that I really should know, seeing as I’ve devoted the last four years of my life to studying the creature, his construction, and Mary Shelley in general. You’d think that would be a detail I’d get right.
You’d think I would have found it glaringly obvious at some point in the hundreds of times I’ve read the passage she was commenting on. That I would have caught the switch myself and fixed it without help.
But I didn’t.
She caught that mistake, and it is no more but how many other little slubs like that lurk in my thesis?
In the novel I’ve published and the novels I plan to publish?
I know of at least six typos in published version of The Adventures of Dogg Girl and Sidekick, including a repeated, egregious misspelling of the word winery that someone really should have caught somewhere in the process.
How harshly will the future judge me for these mistakes?
In some, rational, corner of my brain I know that I’m grasping at these details because I’m in the last days of thesis editing and the stress of that is piling on. That I’m staring down the barrel of an uncertain future that could be determined by the quality of the work I eke out in the next week. That scares the living shit out of me.
And scared people make mistakes.
And scared people make mistakes.
And I am just a people.
One of billions of other people on this planet, all just as capable of making mistakes and just as capable of forgiving them.
With all the wisdom and experience of a ten year old, I found my first mistake in a novel. As an exacting reader with authorial aspirations and a memory that got me in trouble on more than one occasion, it seemed like a near-unpardonable offence.
Almost two decades later, I’ve a much kinder take on the gender of a single, barely named, character.
Would that my mistakes were so slight.
Chase thunder lovelies,
If you like Jenni’s writing, she has a book! It’s about super heroes and college students and friendship and fighting and all sorts of fun stuff, you can check out the first chapter here, and purchase it below!
4 thoughts on “The First Mistake”
What a great read, Jen. As a copy editor and proof reader, I seldom blame the authors for such errors. It is what we are paid (and valued by some) to do. But doctoral students have to depend on others, like your good mom, and it is well-known in my trade that the more your eyes pass over the same thing, the more likely they are to miss the error that glares at the stranger. But if CEs and PRs are free-lance and racing the clock—TMI about my profession—they are more likely to miss. Several compadres in the once-upon-a-time TIME magazine copy desk did their free-lance work at the office… And don’t get me started about the ignorance of autocorrect. Best! Jeannine
Thank you so much for your comments! Good to know that my ongoing battles with auto-correct are hardly a new thing, or confined to just me! Everyone in the family knows that I’ve struggled with spelling all my life, more from disinterest and laziness than anything else. Then the idea of getting details wrong, simple things that are just so easily overlooked- it’s nice to hear that I’m not alone in the editing struggle! Thank you for reading!
Oh, my dear niece, you will make many mistakes in your life and of the few you have made so far in your writings, those are just part of a short list that will grow. Since computers, spell check has been a wonderful thing, but at times we all rely on spell check to often, failing to proofread what we just wrote. I have caught myself many times going back to make changes before sending a text or email as spell check changed one word and it makes the message totally different. Then there are times, I send without proofreading and have to send a correction. We are in a fast world these days and fail to completely proof read what we just wrote as it takes up our time and as the old saying “time is money”, or so it goes, Glad your Mom caught the mistake in the city, there are so many out there that might not have seen it. She had told me last night she had proof read you thesis. Since reading the original book, I have seen errors made by others in their writings about the Monster, especially when it comes to the movies. I have only heard one old radio play that was very close to the original book on the oldies radio station “Radio Classics” on Sirius. Even in the movies made over the years and other writings I have read since getting into Frankenstein, thanks to you, many times they say Geneva was where he “was born”. You are just one person of many people and as you know humans are not perfect even tho some think they are. I have read many books in my 71 years and have seen errors that I wonder how they could have missed such a little think like it. Hope to see you next month when you come home and before sister and hubby move off. Looking at dates now with Uncle David. See you soon, Love Aunt Sheri…….
Hi Aunt Sheri!
Thank you so much for this! Accepting that mistakes will happen and that the best I can do is learn from them and keep pushing is an ongoing struggle, but with family like you backing me I know I’ll never be lost. Thank you so much for always supporting my writing, and for taking such an interest in my research 🙂 Love you so much! And looking forward to seeing y’all while I’m home!