Thursday, March 10, 2016

Iguana Hunting

"We're going iguana hunting."
When my wife, Earlene, said this to one of the security people, he was horrified.  "You can't do that." 
"Of course we can," she replied.

He smoldered for a minute. "It's against the law. What are you going to do?  Eat it?"
"Don't be ridiculous.  We're just going to go looking for them.  Take a few pictures.  We're not going to catch them."

And so we were off.  This is actually a frequent journey for Earlene.  She wanders along the River Caule trying to see how many of the illusive creatures she can spot. This particular day, we were lucky.  We found five iguanas on the ground.  Even I can spot those.  But in the trees, it is a much more difficult task. They have natural camouflage, except for their long - often striped - tail.
My eyesight is as good as Earlene's. But she is experienced and will spot iguanas much faster and more often than I will. I'm best at picking them out when she points to them.

To some extent, particularly if you have a writer's mindset, hunting iguanas is much like proofreading your manuscript.  The out and out mistakes are like the large, orange iguanas - reasonably easy to spot. Oh, you can miss the big, bright iguanas, and you can miss the misspellings, the incorrect grammar, the missing quotation mark. But these are easier to spot.
Many of the young iguanas are green and others are brown. I can look at the tree, the natural habitat for iguanas, and not find a single one. Earlene can walk up and within minutes point out four iguanas. Once she does, I see them also. These are like the more crafty error in a manuscript.  The untrained eye will look right at these subtle mistakes and not see them. Once an error is pointed out, it seems obvious. "Of course that's an iguana," I say. "There's his long, striped tail."  Or, "Okay, I see it. That is a POV switch."

An author not trained in proofreading will overlook many errors that, once they are pointed out to him, are obvious. "How could I have missed that," he yells.
After many iguana hunts with Earlene, I now can find those shy iguanas. I may pick them out before Earlene sees them.  My eyes have been conditioned, trained to pick iguanas out of the foliage.  And the writer can learn to be a better proofreader, particularly if he has some guidance, or he studies the comments that an experienced proofer leaves for him.  It takes practice, work, concentration, and freedom from distractions. But those devious errors, or weak spots, will become as easily identifiable as the sly iguana.

Go on an error hunt, and take a guide along if you can. And understand that while practice may not make perfect, it will make things better.

James R. Callan


Linda Thorne said...

Good analogy. Someone recently told me that when they were in the final proofreading stage with a book, they'd read from the back of the book to the front. Their reasoning was if you start at the beginning, you can get caught up in the story and easily pass over mistakes and misspellings the same way you did the first time. Makes sense to me.

Charles Gramlich said...

A fun way to illustrate your point.

James R. Callan said...

Linda, some people actually do that. I have to agree it will catch more errors - of a certain type. It will not catch structure errors, probably not POV errors, and transition errors might be tougher to catch that way. But, if you have all those things in good shape, then reading from back to front will help. Good luck.

And THANKS to you Charles, for stopping by and leaving a comment. Sometimes the fun way is the best way.

Liane Spicer said...

Very clever analogy that really captures your point. Lovely photos too. Our iguanas (in Trinidad) don't have striped tails so they're even more difficult to spot, but it's a skill that can be learned. Like proofreading.