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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Novelists - how to use MS Word as a powerful editing tool

US author Maria Grace mentioned on facebook about using MS Word as an editing tool. I was intrigued so I asked her to come on the blog and tell us all about it. Over to Maria!

Thanks so much for hosting me Deborah. I’m so excited to get to talk a little about the bones of the writing process. I don’t get to do that very often.

When it comes to writing, I have no qualms about saying that line editing is my least favorite stage of the writing process. It is fiddly, nit-picky and just not a whole lot of fun. This of course means that I want to find the quickest, most efficient way of doing it in as few passes as possible and with tools that I already have.

So I did what all good writers do in such circumstances, I started researching. I read hundreds of articles on the art of line editing—making beautiful sentences that really work. I read about all sorts of expensive software to help the process. Then I read about features in MS word and realized I could get Word to do a lot of those fancy tricks with only a few steps. I found it so helpful, I would love to share my process with you. 

When I get in line editing mode, it is more than anything else, a search and destroy function. I search out problems in the prose and rewrite them. Rewriting is the easy part, finding the spots that need work is the challenge. Using the notes I complied from the reams of writing articles I have read, I created lists of words that signal problems. I organized those lists into three groups: words that signal sloppy or wordy constructions, words that signal point of view problems, and gesturing words that tend to get overused. I use Word’s built in functions to find all the words on one list, correct those issues, then go on to the second and third list. 

The function I use is the ‘replace all function.’ You can set it up to find specific words and replace them with a highlighted version of the same word. This will flag all the problems words, and if you add a touch of color coding to it, even signal what the likely problem is. Then, as you go in to do the actual editing, you can spot exactly what you need to do to fix it all. 

The basic process is simple. 
(Scroll down the blog for the pictures which are at the end of the instructions - sorry, blogger is just not co-operating to let me insert them in the text today - Deborah)

1. Go into word and set the highlight function to a specific color. I start with yellow.(picture 1). I use 7-8 colors on each pass, each one for a different purpose. More on that bit later.

2. Then select ‘Replace’ from the far right menu on the ‘home’ tab in word. If you’re using an older version it is in the dropdown menu. (picture 2). For our first example, we’re going to search for present participles which end in –ing. So type ‘ing’ in the ‘Find what’ field and tick the ‘match suffix’ box in the right hand column.

3. In the ‘replace with’ box, type ‘ing’ just like you did in the ‘find what’ box. Then go to the very bottom and click the left hand button that says ‘more’. (picture 3) Select ‘highlight’. Your box will look like this: (picture 4). Click ‘replace all’, the third box under the ‘replace with’ field.

4. Your file will now look something like this: ( picture 5) All the suffix instances of ‘ing’ are highlighted and you can quickly identify all the present participle phrases that need to be axed. Keep in mind that there are legitimate uses of ‘ing’ words that you want to keep, so you will need to read to determine what you need to do. BUT, this makes finding those trouble spots quick and easy.

5. To take this to the next level, I will go to town and find multiple problem cases at once and handle a whole batch of corrections in a single editing pass. To do this, keep the ‘replace’ window open and go back to step one and select another highlight color. Just click on it, no problem.

6. Then fill in a new word into the ‘find what box’. For me the next search is for instances of ‘was’ and ‘were’—search and destroy passive voice. So I type in ‘was’ into the ‘find what’ and ‘replace with’ fields. Uncheck the ‘match suffix’ box and check the ‘find whole word only’ option in the left hand column. This will keep word from flagging instances of ‘w-a-s’ that occur in the middle of a word like ‘awash’.

7. Click ‘replace all’ and you will have a lovely multicolored version of your document.

8. Redo these steps for each problem word you want to catch. Change colors as described in step 5 whenever you need to. When you’re finished, your document will likely look like this:  picture 7.
Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

Picture 6

Picture 7
You might think this a bit excessive, but the day I discovered I had used has/have/had twenty one times on a single page and had my characters sighing thirteen times on another page convinced me of the usefulness of this technique. 

Naturally, the next question is what to highlight and why. I have a handy little list I use for each of my three passes. You may have different problem areas, but this will give you a sense of the kinds of things to look for. 

Pass 1: Sloppy and wordy construction 
Color Yellow: -ing 
Why: Present participle phrases. Click here ( for an explanation on why those need to go. 

Color Turquoise: was, were 
Why: passive words to replace with active 

Color Pink: had, has, have 
Why: passive, dull constructions 

Color Lime Green: it, there, here 
Why: vague pronouns, should be replaced with something more dynamic 

Color Red: that, but 
Why: overused and lazy conjunctions 

Color Light Grey: every preposition known to man (here’s a short list:
Why??? What do I have against prepositions? Overuse. Nearly half of the prepositional phrases in my writing can be replaced with one or two better, clearer words. 

Color Bright Blue: together, start, plan, almost, just, then, own, thing, began, reach, rather, instead, even, back 
Why: tend to be unnecessary and wordy 

Color Purple: very, good, great, really, suddenly, finally, about, only, totally, eventually, almost, exactly, fairly, so, such 
Why: weak adjectives and adverbs that should be removed or replaced. 

After my document looks like a class of kindergarteners attacked it with an entire box of crayolas, I go through and rewrite according to all the problems that turned up. Often, when sentences have several problem words, I can fix all of them with one simple rewrite, so it is worth it to have all the problems flagged at once. The last time I did this, I edited out 10,000 words from an 88,000 word document. I did not remove any ‘meat’ just slimmed down and streamlined by writing. 

After I do the ‘sloppy writing’ pass, then I will do another round of highlights to ferret out potential point of view issues by searching for filtering words. I pick up a lot of subtle problems this way. Click here( and here ( for some great articles on the subject and lists of words to look for. If anyone is interested in my lists, mention it in the comments section and I can post them in the comments or on my own site. 

The third pass I use is all about gesturing words and speech tags. Using the same basic strategy, I colorize those to be check and make sure that my characters aren’t nodding, sighing and smiling all the time. This can also be useful if you have a character with a ‘tell’ or a specific move, like an eye twitch. You can quickly identify all the twitches and make sure that no one else is doing them. 

A lot of consistency issues can be checked out this way, too. For example, if a character goes by a nickname with some people, you can highlight it and make sure that nickname turns up in the right places and not in the wrong ones. So many possibilities with this approach! 

I even use this technique to help me proofread for punctuation. But that is another post. 

Oh, one last thing, for the geekier among us, Word does have a ‘macro’ feature which allows you to program stuff like this into a single mouse-click. I’m working on that right now… 

Thanks so much for having me today, Deborah!
Many thanks to Maria for sharing these really useful tips, ideas we can all usefully use in our editing process.

About Maria Grace -Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

Web: Random Bits of Fascination
Twitter @WriteMariaGrace 

What is a young woman to do? One handsome young man has all the goodness, while the other the appearance of it. How is she to separate the gentleman from the cad? 

When Darcy joins his friend, Bingley on a trip to Meryton, the last thing on his mind is finding a wife. Meeting Elizabeth Bennet changes all that, but a rival for his affections appears from a most unlikely quarter. He must overcome his naturally reticent disposition if he is to have a chance of winning her favor.
Elizabeth’s thoughts turn to love and marriage after her sister Mary’s engagement. In a few short weeks, she goes from knowing no eligible young men, to being courted by two. Both are handsome gentleman, but one conceals secrets and the other conceals his regard. Will she determine which is which before she commits to the wrong one? 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Historical Fiction Book Fair - Welcome to Mr Crespi's bookshop

Welcome Book Browsers at the Historical Novelists Book Fair. 

Oh, good afternoon mistress, it's you. How delightful to see you again. Which book will you choose I wonder? You can see I have quite a few on my lovely shelves, but might I suggest these? You can see I have marked one of them at the top right with a slip of paper so I can find it easily. The other lies open at the bottom of the shelf, for as you can see I have just finished copying it especially for you. That was quite a labour of love I can tell you. 

 Painting by Giuseppe Crespi, 1665 -1737
What? You prefer a new-fangled typed version? Well I'm only too happy to oblige, but for that you will have to contact my apprentice Joseph Amazon. He is only a click away in the dusty warehouse. Last time I saw him he was trying to sort out a mountain of unsold books. I hope he manages to sell a few sometime, otherwise I fear the moths will eat the bindings and spidery cobwebs will glue them forever to the shelves. 

If you are still a little uncertain about your choice, can I suggest you use the magic lantern device below  which might tempt you with its live action tale of two sisters on the run in the gilded mansions and poor hovels of old London. This book has been a very popular choice amonst young ladies visiting my shop, second only to 'The Gentlewoman's Guide to Snaring a Man.' In fact many have said that they found it so thrilling they had to be revived with a nip of smelling salts by their worried husbands. 

A spellbinding historical novel of beauty and greed and surprising redemption.
England, 1660. Ella Appleby believes she is destined for better things than slaving as a housemaid and dodging the blows of her drunken father. When her employer dies suddenly, she seizes her chance--taking his valuables and fleeing the countryside with her sister for the golden prospects of London. But London may not be the promised land she expects. Work is hard to find, until Ella takes up with a dashing and dubious gentleman with ties to the London underworld. Meanwhile, her old employer's twin brother is in hot pursuit of the sisters.
Set in a London of atmospheric coffee houses, gilded mansions, and shady pawnshops hidden from rich men's view, Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily is a dazzling novel of historical adventure.

You like it? That's splendid. By strange coincidence the book is on special offer at the moment, so hurry on over to the warehouse where Master Amazon will be pleased to deliver a copy of The Gilded Lily direct to your address. Now that's what I call service.

Many thanks for stopping by my humble bookstore and I hope to have the pleasure of serving you again in the near future. What's that? Oh yes, I'll send The Gentlewoman's Guide to Snaring a Man along with it. A plain brown wrapper? Certainly madam.

The other participating emporia are listed here

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

10 Questions with Ella Appleby of The Gilded Lily

For a bit of fun, Ella Appleby a character from my novel The Gilded Lily reveals all! 

Godfried Shalcken - Lady examining herself in a mirror

Favourite Colour: Gold, or scarlet, or a combination of both, preferably red silkwith real gold braiding.

Favourite Animal: A throughbred horse, preferably pulling the brand new shiny carriage in which she is riding.

Favourite Number: 1661 – the year in which she hopes her life will be transformed for the better and she will finally cease to be a servant.

Favourite Non-alcoholic Drink: A hot posset of eggs and ale – yes she knows that is alcoholic, but in the climate of the Little Ice Age, she needs something warming.

Facebook or Twitter?: Ella is a bit lazy, so Twitter would be her thing, but she might use facebook to spy on social contacts who are further up the social ladder.

Her Passion: To leave her life of drudgery, to be treated as she feels she deserves – as a fine lady. Her dream is to wear soft kidskin slippers instead of heavy wooden clogs.

Giving or getting presents:
Definitely getting.

Favorite Day: The day she is first offered a position in The Gilded Lily, a beauty parlour where women can buy salves, potions and unguents to improve their appearance.

Favorite Flowers: Lilies of course. But also partial to a red rose from the hand of an admirer.

Favourite Book: Ella can't read but she likes listening to tales told out loud, the more outrageous the better. And she likes to tell a few tales herself, particularly if it gets her out of trouble.

This game was passed to me by Jo-Ann Butler, and I am passing it on to Grace Elliott.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

What's blogging ever done for me?

I have just been over to Hoydens and Firebrands blog to put up a post about Rakes and Rogues of the Restoration. Hoydens and Firebrands is the place where I can reach other fans of the seventeenth century, a period in which I have written three novels. The blog has a small but enthusiastic following.

Blogging takes up quite a lot of my writing time, so why do it?

Firstly, it is interesting and a writing challenge to compile a short informative piece that does not take long to read, but gives a good introduction to the subject. Usually I have already done the research for the post whilst researching my novels, but a blog post is different. I try to make these short posts visual and include links and references where possible for those who want to follow up the subject in more detail. Blogposts have actually been invaluable to print off and use as brief notes on my subject matter when I talk to Library groups or Book Clubs about my books and my research.

Secondly, I get to interact with people I have never met, but who share my passion for historical fiction. Through blogging I have had one or two great invitations. My blog posts through Debra Brown at English Historical Fiction Authors Blog will appear later this year in a new anthology, Castles Customs and Kings

This means my posts will be more widely read and appreciated.

Thirdly,through blogging I was invited to appear on two panels at The Historical Novel Conference 2013 in Florida. Of course I could have said no, that's too far to travel, but instead we have incorporated it into our family holiday, and I am now looking forward to meeting US fans of historical fiction and US writers who I only know from their icons online.

Here is a video showing the conference in London this year, and I'm sure Florida will be just as great. 

Fourthly, It is my pleasure to promote other authors of historical Fiction via my other blog,
Royalty Free Fiction, where I can find other great new reads and help promote the genre in general. This blog focusses on books which do not have the draw of royalty (ie Kings and Queens) to help them gain a readership. Through doing this I have been made aware of many fantastic books I might otherwise have missed.

This is not to mention the great book bloggers who hosted me on my virtual tours with The Gilded Lily and took the time to review it. I appreciated them all, not to mention Amy Bruno from Passages in the Past who set up the tours.

So what's blogging done for me?
Quite a lot actually!