Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to use Word to find mistakes in your book (Part 1)

You will never find all of the errors in your book. This is a fact. No matter how many times you read your book, something will slip through the cracks.

I am constantly editing The Complex, to the point where I now detest it and can probably recite a fair amount of it from memory. I find a new mistake every time and I fix it. I know it’s never going to be 100% perfect, but I like the idea that in some tiny way it gets better every time I update it.

I write on Microsoft Word. That’s just the way things are; I cannot afford a Mac and I like Windows. I know how to use Windows computers very well, and I don’t have any needs that aren’t being met by my fabulous little Asus laptop. I wish I could tell you how to do these things on a Mac, but I can’t. I use Word 2010. These things may not work for other Word versions, but it’s worth a shot.

Microsoft Word spell check only helps in some cases. Usually it doesn't. But before you get down on Word, take a minute to learn it's capabilities--it's actually a wonderful program.

When I was editing my book, I came up with a lot of Microsoft word tips to get me through the editing process. Here they are, use them as you like:

1. For character names and possessives

There is no occasion when misspelling the name of one of your characters is acceptable. Let’s be real here, that’s like the ONLY thing you have to do correctly. Now, Microsoft Word has a fabulous little “Find” option that’s going to make your editing a hell of a lot easier.

Type ctrl+f and a navigation bar will pop up on the left side of the screen. 

Now, you can proceed in a couple ways. You can either type in the common misspelling of your character name into that box, or you can do “Find and replace.”

For example, my protagonist is named Helena, but sometimes I accidentally mistype her name as “Helen.” So, I would type the name “Helen” with a space behind it (this is REALLY important, because Word searches within words, so if I’m looking for the word “hat,” it will locate it within the word “that”). Locate and change them.

OR you can use “Find and replace.” Go to the Navigation bar on the side and click the little arrow next to the magnifying glass. Select the "Replace" option.
Opening the "Find and replace" window
It will open a new window. I typed in the typo in the first box, the proper version in the second box (both with Spaces after them, because they are necessary in this case) and replaced. Voila! There go all the errors.

Replacing a typo with the correct name
SECONDLY, possessives are a bit of a trouble for characters whose names end in the letter S. Depending on what floats your boat, you may or may not want to type an S after the apostrophe in a possessive form of a proper noun. For example, I have a character in my novel named Lucas. Sometimes, I forget the S after the apostrophe and accidentally type: Lucas’

In order to fix that, use “Find and Replace” and type the original name with the error in Find, and the proper version in Replace

Find: Lucas’
Replace: Lucas’s


2. For periods or commas within quotations

Here is where things get a bit more complicated. Your character dialogue ought to have quotation marks on either side of it. There’s no way around it, and Word doesn’t tell you when you’ve missed them. So, you have to control for that.

On the Navigation bar on the left (it appears when you type ctrl+f), press the arrow next to the magnifying glass and select “Advanced Find…” There is a binocular icon next to it. 

It will bring up the “Find and Replace” window. From here, press the “More >>>” button in the bottom left corner of the window.

Locating "More" options (bottom left corner)
It will expand the window and you will have a series of options with check boxes next to them. 

Go to the “Special” tab on the bottom and select “Any Letter.” It will automatically put the characters ^$ into the “Find” bar up above. Now, RIGHT NEXT TO THAT, type a quotation mark. All of the info together will read: ^$”

Press search. This will tell you when you have neglected to put punctuation within a quotation. Go through the mistakes and fix them one by one. Remember, when the dialogue is followed by an attribution (“How dumb,” Helena mumbled.) you have to put a comma, not a period. Periods only go before the end quotation mark when the dialogue ends the sentence (“How dumb.” Helena folded her arms and rolled her eyes.)

3. For quotations

This drove me crazy for a very long time. I’m talking weeks. Weeks of torment. I even cried at one point and made my boyfriend sit next to me because I was having a gross overreaction to figuring out quotations.

So here’s what I figured out:

Unless you have several occasions when a character speaks in paragraphs, you should, in theory, have an even number of lead-on quotation marks and end quotations marks because they go at the beginning and end of the dialogue. So, go to your word document and (important!) copy a lead-in quotation mark (the one at the beginning of a line of dialogue). You HAVE to copy—it won’t work if just try to type.

Having copied this quotation mark, type ctrl + f and paste this mark into the search bar on the Navigation bar on the left. Word will then tell you how many of those marks that you have in your document and will highlight them in yellow. THEN copy an end-quotation mark, and do the same. In theory, the numbers should be the same. If not, get searching.

This is extremely tedious, but worth it. Keep in mind, however, that you might be missing one of each type—at which point your quantities of each type of mark would even out. For example:

     “Helena,” her father’s voice came through the door. He knocked twice. Helena, are you awake?”
     “Just a second,” she shouted as she spotted her pants on top of the mahogany dresser in the corner of her room. One leg was stuffed into a drawer and the other was crumpled on top. She quickly pulled on her pants and her leather boots and stopped to stare at her reflection in the mirror.
     “Helena, her father urged through the door. He knocked louder this time.
     “Just a second,” she hissed back as she struggled to pull her long, dark hair into a bun. The hairband that she wore on her left wrist got caught on her vitals bracelet as she tried to loop it around her hair.
     “Helena, we will leave without you,” her father warned her.

I deleted two quotation marks from the above passage. The number of marks still comes out even, because the two quotation marks even each other out since I removed one lead-in and one end-mark.

The best thing that you can do is go through the document and highlight a lead-in quotation mark and then press ENTER in the navigation bar when the same type of mark is highlight. This will tell you what number it is in the document.

Taking on quotation marks
Copy and paste an end mark into the navigation bar and do the same thing with the end quotation mark from the SAME sentence. If they add up, in theory you have no mistakes or missing marks prior to that point. If they don’t add up…better start searching.

That’s probably enough information to keep you busy for a while. More tips to come!



  1. Thanks CZ some great easy to understand tips, I agree, word is a powerful tool if you know how to use it properly.


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  3. If your quote extends through multiple paragraphs, you begin each paragraph with open quote but only use end quote after the final paragraph of the speech. This inevitably leads to an unequal number of each.

    1. Scott,

      I acknowledged that at the beginning of that section when I wrote, "Unless you have several occasions where a character speaks in paragraphs, you should, in theory, have an even number of lead-on quotation marks and end quotations marks because they go at the beginning and end of the dialogue."