In which, the proofreader must bite his tongue.
The budding novelist in question is Gary Draper, the proofreaders wife’s cousin. The novel is entitled The Pirate. The plot, insofar as there is a plot, concerns a serial killer, with an eye patch and a hook for a hand, who is whittling his way through a cast of unconvincing characters in a holiday resort in the Caribbean. No motive is given for these slayings aside from the fact that The Pirate is deranged. All The Pirate’s victims are young women who have made the fatal error of looking great in swimwear. Gary has entirely overlooked the fact that a novel requires a protagonist or, indeed, a point.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the writing itself was competent. It isn’t. It would be inaccurate to describe the author’s attitude to grammar as ‘rule breaking’ because that would suggest that Gary knew the rules in the first place. He very clearly doesn’t. There are more split infintives and dangling modifiers than you can shake a stick at, and the entire thing appears to have been written in the passive voice. The proofreader finds this latter point almost funny, that such an unpleasant and aggressive piece of prose could be described in any way as passive.
But split infinitives and dangling modifiers are as nothing compared to some of Gary Draper’s grammatical atrocities. The word ‘have’ seems to have been abandoned in favor of the increasingly popular and utterly unacceptable ‘of’. In Gary’s particular iteration of the multiverse, the apostrophe has been rendered extinct. And spelling, it would seem, if Mr Draper is to be believed, is for losers.
All of this, however, is tolerable. These kind of errors are meat and drink to the intrepid proofreader. Obviously, it is not typical for there to be quite so many of them but they are not, in and of themselves, unusual. What is really driving the proofreader in the general direction of the kitchen sink (beneath which is stored the emergency brandy) is the fact that Gary’s writing seems intent upon summoning the proofreader’s inner editor.
He is not an editor. He has never been an editor. He has worked with many great and talented editors in his time but he does not count himself among their number. He is a proofreader. He has been a proofreader all his working life. He will be a proofreader until the day his lips turn blue and they pry his red pen from his cold, dead hand. But Gary Draper’s awful writing has him critiquing instead of proofreading; it is forcing him to leave the objective world of right and wrong, and taking a few awkward steps into the subjective world of the editor. He doesn’t want to waist valuable red ink telling Gary that an adult novel can’t contain the expression “He was as crafty as a fox” and expect to be taken seriously, and yet he feels compelled to do so.