Did You Fix the Squigglies?

Early in my career as an indie game developer, I offered proofreading services pro bono to a couple of cool-looking AGS games. (I’m not going to say what they were or link to them here, because I’m about to say bad things about them.) I was hungry to get my name in a few credits so I could show paying projects that I can be useful, and both games were happy to take me on.

My critical mistake here was that I left it at that. “Do you need any proofreading?” “Oh yes, proofreading would be nice! We love proofreading!” I didn’t talk with them about what they actually wanted out of a proofreader or what kinds of changes they were comfortable making at this point in their development cycles; instead, I just started making all the changes I thought their games needed.

…Which, it turned out, was a lot. Like way a lot.

The first project decided not to use any of my edits, because (this was the reason they gave me) they were afraid that proper grammar would make their game sound too stuffy or formal. The second game couldn’t figure out an easy way to implement all my edits, so they decided to just throw them out, instead. (Although, not before adding my name to the game’s credits. They couldn’t find an easy way to take that out, either; it’s still there.) Both projects left not just weird stylistic issues in their games, but actual, glaring-ass typos, and then just released the games like that.

So I’ve learned to talk with people about what they want before agreeing to do anything. “Do you want me to just correct obvious typos, or are you worried about consistency?” (Pro-tip: Everyone should be worried about i-am-errorconsistency, but most people aren’t.) “Do you want me to re-write lines if they sound awkward or a little unnatural?” “…Do you want me to just make all the red squigglies go away.”

As a proofreader, I’d love nothing more than to drive my red pen through the monitor every time someone says “alright” instead of “all right,” but the client has to be on board. Especially in gaming projects. If they have a simple, automated way to make changes to the script (or even have you editing the code directly), and you have their blessing to just do what you need to do, that’s one thing; but more often than not you’re editing an Excel or Word document, and some poor programmer has to dig through the code to change each semi-colon and ellipsis you marked off individually.

Here’s the big secret (that your English teacher doesn’t want you to know): Editing is less about “what’s right” and more about “what’s right for this project.” That’s why style guides are a thing and families have been broken over how many spaces to put at the end of a sentence.

You have to use the Reasonable Rule (which I might’ve just made up, but it sure sounds like a thing) when working with a client or collaborator who’s reluctant to make a thousand little changes to their script: Would a reasonable person think this is wrong? Would your average, non-editor person look at this, and think we screwed up somewhere? If not, then maybe that’s not the battle you wanna fight. If they’re at least consistent about spelling it as “Ok” every time they use the word, then maybe let it go, so they don’t end up throwing all your work in the garbage rather than deal with the mess they think you’ve made. After all, it’s way better to be mostly right than totally wrong.



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