Wednesday, January 21, 2009

WNW: Laughing at Myself

In an effort to prove that we all make mistakes and need to laugh at ourselves (and so you call all have some chuckles at my expense), I thought I'd tweak something I posted awhile ago for the Writing on the Wall blog where I'm the Wednesday contributor (it's a writing and editing blog for Precision Editing Group, which I'm part of).

Long-time readers have heard me sing the praises of my critique group, which is composed of several talented, published writers. (But we started out as a group of unpublished, aspiring writers. Look how far we've come!) We continue to meet regularly and read our work aloud to one another for feedback.

I've been attending for over 9 years, and I won't stop anytime soon. Some might think that by now we must have exhausted our usefulness to one another, that we've learned all we can, and might as well move on. Nothing is further from the truth. I've found that extra sets of eyes looking at my work will find things that I am incapable of seeing because I'm the one who wrote it.

It doesn't matter how great a writer is; the fact that you wrote the piece by its very nature dictates that you cannot see all the holes. The moment I think I'm such a good a writer that I don't need outside feedback is the day my writing takes a nosedive.

Even though most of what we look for consists of big stuff like plot and character issues, every so often we come upon something little that makes us all laugh out loud—usually something that didn't come out quite how we meant it to, something you most definitely don't want showing up on a bookstore shelf one day.

Below are a few gems that came from a single meeting about a year ago. Remember: All of these sentences came from authors who have multiple published novels under their belts. It happens to the best of us.

1. James hadn't meant to let it slip that he wasn't married, at least to his boss.

(No, James isn't married to his boss . . .)

A set-up for #2: the character in question has built a narrow enclosure for a horse, using dowels slid through the back opening of the area to prevent the horse from backing out of it. Okay, now the sentence will make more (silly) sense. Note that we've been talking HORSES:

2. He had made holes for sliding sticks through the rear end instead of her recommended two.

(Uh, that would be the rear end of the enclosure . . .)

The next one shows a scuffle between two WOMEN:

3. Suddenly her hands were on my chest, pushing me backwards.

(Doubt she meant to give her an unscheduled mammogram . . .)

Note there's nothing inherently bad about any of these sentences, but in context and with a different pair of eyeballs than the author had, a new meaning emerged.

Sometimes our "bloopers" are of the grammatical variety. Other times they're simply ambiguous. Then there are those that just leave a silly image in your mind.

Here are more gaffs I've gathered over the years (they're too funny to not keep a running file of)—all real quotes from drafts brought to our critique group.

And yes, some are mine:

Suddenly, my mother turned into a driveway.

Your grandmother killed him before I got the chance.

Lizzie's hands flew to her mouth. Inside lay four books.

Lighting a candle, she settled beneath the covers.

[My commentary: Then poof! went the quilt in a ball of flames . . .]

Andrew noted his lean frame on the high counter sipping his drink.

. . . he began, then stopped seeing Jacob's scowl

Quiet and patient, Alice's dark hair was always pulled into a simple bun.

She realized that tears were streaming down her cheeks. How could they?

One of the worst (best?) bloopers was mine, but the double meaning is so bad that I won't share it for all the world to see. That, and it's hideously embarrassing. I still blush at the memory. (NOT what I meant!)

It was worse than the time Jeff [or Scott, as he's commonly known now] had a detective wondering about the leak in a case as a character relieved himself in a bush. (He's the one who always brings up my really bad gaff. If you ever see him, go ahead and ask what it was. He'll tell you, and totally laugh his head off while doing it.)

And here's our all-time favorite blooper:

The set-up: A man is hiding inside a cedar wood closet. The smell of the wood reminds him of the cedar chest his mother once owned. But instead of saying it like that, it came out like this:

The scent reminded him of his mother's big, smelly chest.

I still giggle at that one.

We've had our laughs over all of these, and any time someone lets a blooper loose, I write it down—not only because of the chuckle, but because it's a subtle reminder that we all need one another to read over and catch not only our bloopers, but all kinds of other things that can make our writing continually better.

It's something every writer needs. A sense of humor helps too.


Rebecca Irvine said...

These are funny! The idea of an editing group is great... I wonder if there is one in my neck of the woods.

Lara Neves said...

How fun! I'm glad you all can laugh at yourselves. :)

LisAway said...

I was laughing and laughing at these. (Greg asked twice "What!?!")

Those are so funny. And yes, those are just the kinds of things you don't want in your book, but you could easily overlook yourself.

But I have to say I am VERY curious about your big blooper that you won't share. . .

Michelle Glauser said...

Hilarious! Share the embarrassing one!

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

That group sounds like a lot of fun!!! I do that all the time on my blog and people LOVE to point it out! lol!

Wonder Woman said...


Anonymous said...

That last one is awesome!

Kristina P. said...

So funny! Commas really can make all the difference in the world.

Erin said...

I want to know the embarrassing gaffe too. These are great bloopers!

Julie Wright said...

I wish I lived closer to you guys. I would love to be in your critique group

Luisa Perkins said...

SO great.

And I'm with Julie.

Anonymous said...

crackin up

Alison Wonderland said...

Seriously, you gotta tell us what yours was.

I can so easily see how each of these was written, I'm willing to bet I have a ton of them.

David G. Woolley said...

I laughed. Big smelly chest. Funny.

David G. Woolley said...

Jeff (as in J. Scott Savage) if you're out there, I dare you to post the blooper Annette refuses to share. Dare you. Dare you. Dare you. Double dog.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I laughed out loud over that first one. Hee hee!

Heidi said...

How clever of you to save these! They are great!

Brittany Marie said...

Hahaha those are awesome. No one likes a smelly chest. Or maybe they do?

I find bloopers in my stuff all the time. It bothers me.

Jeff Savage said...

How can I resist a double dog dare? We'll see if Annette deletes me or not, but here it is:

The character had very recently been sexually assaulted. Obviously not a laughing matter at all. But the blooper was.

She is on the doctors table and is not sure what to do. Described as, "She felt torn." Ouch both ways.

Cynthia said...

I am not a writer but my sister is. I always have her read anything important I write because she always knows how it could be 'better'.

I like the message too- no one is too good or too talented to learn from others. To NEED others to be better than they ever could on their own.

Annette Lyon said...

Nope, Jeff, I won't delete you! I didn't have the guts to put that into a post, but it's safely hidden in the comments. Or something.

(See, everyone--I told you he'd have no qualms about sharing! And it was BAD, right?) :D

Heather Moore said...

All of our dark secrets have just been let out of the closet. LOL.

Jan said...

Love it Annette. It is great that you can get a tickle out of yourself. Those were so cute. I wouldn't have caught them all like you did either.

Thanks for sharing. Really fun.

Heffalump said...

Laughing at ourselves is a good thing. It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.
By the way, I saw that you (your Dad actually) was mentioned on the 6 LDS writers and a frog blog today.

Rebecca Blevins said...

I laughed so hard that I died. Literally. I am now a real 'ghost writer'.


samiam said...

Laughing at yourself is amazingly healthy (see Elder Wirthlin's conference talk) and pretty much keeps me sane. BTW your conference inspired me to start a writing group that I am now a die-hard of. My favorite day of the month!


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