The Storymaker and the Elves: A Fairy Tale for Proofreaders


Once upon a time, there was a humble writer. He was an honest lover of words and ideas, and had toiled for years in service of the muse, struggling to create clever turns of phrases, and hopefully turn a profit. All of this toil brought eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a profound addiction to caffeine, but alas, it did not allow the writer to make a living at his craft. No matter how many submissions he sent out, he couldn’t get the powers that be to notice his talent.

One night, beleaguered and fresh out of good ideas, he decided to give up, hang up his quill, empty his ink pot and quit this wordsmithing thing. Maybe he’d teach English oversees, get a job in telemarketing, or join the ranks of the retail army. With a sigh, he turned out the lights and went to bed, his latest sloppy magnum opus splayed out over the top of his desk, dotted with angry ink in particularly trying sections.

The next morning, the writer awoke to find that same manuscript arranged neatly, his pen and ink looking alert and ready to work again. It wasn’t like theives to tidy up after breaking in, he thought as he tiptoed over for a closer look. Smartly etched into the pages were tiny correction marks, written by tiny hands. Some indicated overlooked grammar errors, some pointed to missing words, and some even made suggestions for improvements in style and organization. Feeling sheepish, but grateful, the writer set about making the changes, and when he had a new, clean copy ready, he marched it down the street to the local publisher.

The book was an instant success, and within weeks, the writer had enough money to last him the rest of the year. Bolstered by this, the writer hauled out another tattered manuscript, one that he’d abandoned to the mice years ago, and left it on the desk overnight.  To make it look extra pathetic, he rumpled the pages around and tossed a few on the floor.  Sure enough, the next morning, it stood corrected in the same fine handwriting, with the same insightful comments. Like the first manuscript, it proved to be a favourite of those in town.

Out came the rest of the writer’s past failures.  Each appeared in significantly better condition the next morning, and soon after, each became another notch in the writer’s literary belt.  When he’d cornered the fiction market in his region, he decided it was time to find out which benevolent force had helped him receive such acclaim.

Hiding in the pantry one night, he saw a group of tiny elves hunched over the pages of his latest disaster. Although they were making quick work of his corrections, they clearly weren’t happy about being there.  Their mussed hair, flushed cheeks and relentless cursing made it evident.

Feeling guilty, the writer vowed to repay them for their kindness. In anticipation of their next visit, he left a selection of miniature writing implements, a basket of mini muffins, and a small bottle of home brew. He smiled as he fell asleep, thinking he had shown true gratitude.

Evidently wee folk don’t appreciate empty carbs, and they can’t handle hooch. The writer awoke to find his manuscript befouled in unspeakable ways. The elves had left a note that was almost incomprehensible, but still managed to convey a healthy number of expletives and something about him being a rotten bastard for not sharing royalties. The wee pens and pencils he had selected for them were jabbed into the wood of the pantry door inside what looked like a crude drawing of him.

The writer may not have had a critical eye for his own work, but he could take a hint. He stopped leaving out work to be corrected. Figuring he could live quite comfortably from his previous work, he stopped writing entirely and retired somewhere in the dessert, where there probably weren’t elves.


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