Monday, April 11, 2016

Hunting Iguanas

"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. Still, she 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 lying along the branch." 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 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 while practice may not make perfect, it will make things better.

James R. Callan


Charles Gramlich said...

I would love to see the Marine Iguanas in the Galapagoes

Sunny Frazier said...

Earlene, the bwana of the iguana hunt!

Anonymous said...

I think spotting errors is easier when you read your work aloud, too. It's like the iguana actually saying, "Over here! Over here!"

Maggie said...

Mismatched quotation marks always get me. I swear they propagate in my sleep!

Jewel Amethyst said...

Sometimes when I read a published novel I find elusive iguanas and I ask myself, "how could they have missed that?" Then a little voice in the back of my head whispers, "easily."

James R. Callan said...

Thanks for the comments. For Jewel, I'd add to my list, "Frequently." For Amreade, I completely agree. But even when reading mine aloud, I will often say the right thing even when the words in front of my eyes do not. Sunny, I'll pass on your description to Earlene. She'll appreciate it. Charles, I haven't made Galapagoes - yet. You are absolutely right, Maggie. Mismatched quotation marks are quite easy to overlook.

Eileen Obser said...

I love this, Jim. Thanks to the new Posse page on Facebook, I read it and will share it with other writers/editors.