Fear in Writing: The Oops! in Writing

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Oops! in Writing

I made a mistake yesterday. I went in for the wrong shift at work. Yes, in news we work shifts because we have to cover the whole 24 hour clock!

I was absolutely convinced I was supposed to work from 2:30 till 11:30. So convinced in fact, that I lined up childcare accordingly and arranged a doctor's appointment to start and end leading into my shift. Everything worked out perfectly...if I had been right.

There are plenty of good reasons for my mistake--I don't work every day, the station has asked a lot of me lately, I've worked several different times, I have no set shift, we only communicate by email so there is no double check of a shift schedule for me...But I don't make excuses. It was my mistake, pure and simple.

In the end, I worked for about an hour at 2:30, doing a Special Projects job I'm also helping out with right now. Everyone was very nice about my mistake, even trying to pay me for my drive time because they didn't want to "ruin the relationship" with me. It was really nice to feel valuable. They certainly earned my loyalty with that one remark yesterday (if they hadn't already, which they had).

But it got me thinking about small, honest mistakes. Small mistakes can change entire days, entire paths. Look how I oriented my day around a small mistake. My husband even changed his schedule based on it.

Small mistakes can be crucial in plotting. They can be intentional: a small mistake by a protagonist can be a great point in a plot. Say a MC enters the wrong store to pick up his dry cleaning and inadvertently witnesses something he shouldn't. The whole plot is fast-forwarded from there! Or they can be unintentional, and an oops: say you drop a hint you shouldn't, like that your killer loves BBQ, and then have only one character eating BBQ in two other scenes. Oops! The reader has it figured out two-thirds of the way through. And such a little mistake!

Little mistakes with big consequences. Such is life, I suppose. How do you use mistakes in your writing?


  1. That sucks!
    My mistake is leaving out a detail I know, but I haven't told the reader yet, thus confusing him later on.

  2. Sounds like something I would do.

    Mistakes are what make life (and our stories interesting). They might not always be good mistakes, but they do spice things up.

  3. Heard That! Nice to know you're appreciated, though! Good points about plot-pushing "mistakes" though! Mur Lafferty recoments a Novel Bible to keep track of plots, character boi's & appearence, etc.

  4. Being a fellow mystery writer I'm sure you know that the mistakes we factor into our plots MUST BE BELIVEABLE! The litmus test we face are more stringent. Otherwise we are accused to taking the easy way out. Make sense?

  5. Overusage of certain words. Usually I can catch and correct with a Thesarus though.

  6. Sometimes my biggest mistakes make me a better writer. My critique group will pick up on my mistakes and I learn how to fix them. I don't like to make mistakes so I've always tried hard to improve myself. Thank you, mistakes.

    Great post.

  7. I catch myself doing this BBQ thing! I hint too much at first and give it all away. Letting the string out gradually is tricky... especially in beginning drafts.

    And sorry about the mess up in the scedule! Definitely something I would have done. :o)

  8. My characters make a stupid, but honest, mistake that costs them quite dearly about halfway through the novel.

  9. That really sucks, re-organizing your entire day and being mistaken! I've thought for sure I had an early meeting and drag myself out of bed ungodly early just to find out "oh, that's tomorrow". Argh.
    I don't let my characters make the same silly mistakes as me, but I do like them to be mistaken in their interpreatations of what's really going on in the story. That way everybody's surprised!

  10. What a bummer, at least you didn't entirely waste the time.

    I have had characters see things they weren't meant to by turning up early for something.

  11. I guess there are planned and unplanned mistakes. :) So unplanned mistakes could be things like continuity errors (which I make a lot. Editors help me find them, but I've gotten better at finding them myself, too.)

    A planned "mistake" in a book? A murderer's mistake usually means a clue that leads to his arrest! :)

    Sorry you had an oops!

  12. All of the mistakes in mysteries sound interesting! My creative mistakes either involve a seam ripper or an "oh well!"

  13. Sounds like we all intend to catch our mistakes. Big surprise there! Will's "Novel Bible" suggestion sounds interesting. Turning our mistakes into something useful takes some practice...