The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After raising their tent, the two men crawled into it and fell asleep.
Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, "Kemo Sabe, look up and tell me what you see."
The Lone Ranger replies, "I see the sky, and in it, thousands of stars."
"What does that tell you?" asks Tonto.
The Lone Ranger ponders the question for a minute and then says, "Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, it says the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, we'll probably have a beautiful day. What does it tell you, Tonto?"
Tonto rolls his eyes in disgust. "It tells me someone stole our tent!"
Tom Stern at GrammarBook.com defines homing in as getting to the crux of a problem. In the story above, the Lone Ranger failed to home in on the real problem because he concentrated only on what he saw and not on what he didn't see.
We writers often do the same thing when we self-edit our work. We are so familiar with our stories, and can so readily visualize our settings and characters, that we often read what we think we wrote rather than what we did write.
So even though Aunt Anna has always lived in North Dakota (it says so on page eight of our novel), our hero ends up on Interstate 90 when he's driving to her home. With one slip of the finger, we changed I-94 to I-90 and sent Aunt Agatha -- or was it Anna? -- to South Dakota.
For me, one of the best ways to avoid unintentional errors is by setting my work aside for a few weeks after finishing it. Once I have the story pretty well out of my mind, I can go back and read it over with a fresh eye for mistakes or inconsistencies. Doing it this way, I've found I can catch most errors before my readers do.
So what's your secret for catching mistakes in your writing? Are you Tonto or the Lone Ranger when it comes to self-editing your work?