Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Automatic Adjustments

Yesterday morning, I was reading through some of my own prose, and I realized that I slipped into a weird tense.

"Dennis had been sleeping when Margaret came into the room."

I decided it would be tighter if I wrote instead:

"Dennis was sleeping when Margaret came into the room."

Then, I had the brilliant idea of doing a systematic change, telling my computer to find all the had's so that I could quickly run through them all and change the ones I wanted to change.

It was a fast way to do it, but now I'm worried that my prose won't flow, that I'll have inconsistencies because I didn't read through the entire draft again during this last correction. So, possibly, this edit created more work for me rather than less.

Do you ever rely on these types of automatic changes? Does it work for you?


  1. This might be fine as long as you didn't just use the "find/replace" function. I did something similar to this once and it turned out okay, just rushing through the MS and changing one type of thing (forget what it was).

    But oh yeah, "was sleeping" is better than "had been sleeping." Maybe "was asleep" is better yet.

    Or maybe: "When Margaret made her entrance into the bedchamber, she discovered Dennis slumbering." If that had a couple adverbs and adjectives, it would be perfect.

  2. I've been trying to abolish 'hads' but sometimes nothing else works because the reader gets confused about the time reference.
    As for those replace functions, they can be dicey. I think you need to read through. Sigh. It never ends, does it?
    Laurie Halse Anderson has been putting up an awesome number of posts with her revision tips.

  3. I took out almost all the hads in one of my pieces in favor of simple past and my CPs wanted them back in (even though the time reference was still clear enough). Haven't decided which way I'll go on that one.

    My favorite systematic change is "was going to" to "would." Can't do it wholesale, but it's so much more elegant.

    When I want to change something like that throughout a document (or watch my adverbs, etc.), I use "Find All" and highlight them, so I can remember to take a closer look at that when I read it through the next time. (Highlighting all the "ly"s does make for some oddness when your character is named Molly, though.)

  4. Mr. Bailey, I don't think any of my books will ever have the word bedchamber in it. That's your thing. I'm much hipper! I didn't do the find and replace. I've had enough of those disasters!

    Tricia, thanks. Yes, I think reading it through will always be required. Ditto sigh. I've been recruiting some new readers again, fresh eyes. I don't have many left!

    Jordan, I didn't even know highlighting was an option! That's a great tip. Thanks! I had a writer friend who replaced the name Curt with Ryan. As she was reading through, she couldn't figure out why she had so many Ryanains in her living room.

  5. Mr. Malasarn, I have used the word "bedchamber" twice in Chapter 13. I have as yet not used the word "wench," however. Some day I'll write a book set in contemporary times, just you wait and see.

  6. I think your fifth novel should be called "The Wench & The Eel." Set in modern times. The eel uses an iPhone. And, it's also a vampire.

  7. Ha! Davin, I have abused the Find/Replace funciton many times to change character names. It's awful when I've chosen a short name, because I get sentences like "I felt sick to my sSteveach." Oh well, it's still better than retyping on a typewriter.

  8. I’ve done that a lot with some of my overused words, like just and like, but I’d never be brave enough to find and replace all; I always have to read the context. I’ve done it also with was, to get a better grip on passive voice. Of course, was is just the tip of it.
    Find and replace is a great tool!

  9. Find/replace for "begin" or "began" and sometimes "as" if I'm feeling sprite.

  10. Ummm -- that would be finding and editing (not so much replacing)... Too much eggnog.

  11. LOL, Good point, Genie! I work in science, and people here used to have to stencil in their letters for figure captions. They didn't have the internet either. Good times!

  12. jbchicoine, it's sometimes shocking how often we use certain words, isn't it? I started to do this with has, and got intimidated about about page 100. I'll have to go back to it again today.

    Bane, I use "starts" a lot too. But, I'm getting better at avoiding that on the first pass these days. Enjoy your noggin'!

  13. I have a few overused words--including "was" and "just." So, I find and replace them in word, making every example of the word in red, bold, etc. Then I read through a paper draft and change as I go.

  14. Beth, this is a great tip. I never thought of doing it that way. Jordan mentioned this too. I'll try it!

  15. I'm terrified of anything automatic in Word, especially the find / replace function.

  16. A passive voise is not as reccommended as an active one. "Margaret entered the room and saw that Dennis was asleep." When we begin sentences with prepositions, it can become addictive, and then we start writing like we talk and editors and professors do not like that at all.

  17. Ania, Yes, I'm a bit scared of it too. Maybe laziness gets the best of me sometimes.

    12_String, thanks for your tip! I agree your sentence feels more active. There's a slight change of POV there that might be a factor, depending on the story.

  18. I like the idea of highlighting overused words. Not sure I’d do it until the second draft though. Too much work for something that may not survive to final product anyway.

    This is off topic, but I’m not sure these two verb structures are interchangeable. My understanding is:

    was + participle = continuous past used for ongoing action at the timeframe in which the story is taking place. If the story is written in past tense and Margaret’s action is current to the story, then ‘was sleeping’ is the appropriate form.

    had been + participle = past perfect used for action that precedes the timeframe in which the story is taking place. Again, assuming the story is in the past tense, if Margret is flashing back on the first time she met David, then ‘had been sleeping’ is the appropriate form, ie: “Margaret remembered the first time she saw Dennis. He had been sleeping …”

    This could be old fashioned, British or both. In modern American usage, are these verb structures used interchangeably?

  19. Find & Replace (ctrl+H) is one of my favorite Office functions. I use it to adjust document templates for work mostly, but I've used it in a manuscript, too. The best I've ever put it to use was when I changed a character's name.

    For your two sentences, there are very different implications:

    had been sleeping implies that he is now awake and is no longer sleeping.

    was sleeping he was asleep at the time she entered.

    This is also passive, which is fine, but if you wanted to make it more active you could write it as

    Margaret found Dennis asleep when she came into the room.

  20. Funny name replacement stories! I love the Ryanians!
    I changed some names in a ms once and had dozens of worse problems to fix afterwards. Oh my. The only time the find-replace thing worked well for me was in an ms where I'd discovered I'd spelled "heroin" as "heroine." That was creating some very amusing images in the scene, I can assure you. Since it was only about 4 times, it did work to use find-replace. All other times, it's been a big mistake to use it.
    Oh wait. Once, I had an agent complain that a ms written in 1st person POV for YA used the word "dude" too many times. I used that program to find that it occurred 13 times in 64, 000 words, which didn't strike me as too much for a kid talking. But I got rid of all but about 5 of them anyway.
    And, Scott, you have now intrigued me. Someday I must find a way to work the word "wench" into character dialogue. Really. This is now imperative. :)

  21. I have this big list of "bad words" I've compiled. Was, had, etc. (Not "etc", just more of those)
    Although etc. should probably be on the list now that I think about it.
    I've decided to abandon the list because it come down to voice and POV. Sometimes you just want to say "he had been sleeping" and that's it. I think it works better than "was sleeping" in this instance...but maybe the entire sentence can be improved.

  22. Our organisation uses British English, but sometimes we need to use American English for particular proposals.
    I was converting one from American English to British English the other day, and had the brilliant idea of getting word to find 'Program' and replace it with 'Programme'. MSW ran the check twice, so I ended up spending more time correcting the 'Programmeme'!!!

    Lesson not learnt, to convert all the organiZation to organiSation, I asked MSW to replace Z with S. Guess what 'zone' became?

  23. Rayna,
    I'm an American, but I did my MSc in Edinburgh, Scotland, where some instructors required all British English, some didn't care, and some -- oddly enough -- wanted American spelling with British punctuation. (That one drove me nuts!) My dissertation was written in American English, but many quotes were in British English, some in Scottish Standard English (slightly different), some in Scots, and a few (to show translation work) in Spanish.
    I just turned off all spell-check programs and did all editing the old-fashioned way.

  24. I get confused by US/ British grammar differences too as spend increasing amounts of time on US blogs.

  25. Yeah. One time I did a replace all for Oli with Ollie. It was for a character named Oliver's nickname, and I thought Ollie was a more standard spelling. I forgot to put a space after Oli when I did it, and so I ended up with things like CarOlliena instead of Carolina. Heehee. It took me a while to catch them all.


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