Thursday, 21 June 2012

6 Ways Of Using 'Find and Replace' You Might Not Have Thought Of

Like most people I use Word as my word processing software. You'll find the Find/Replace button if you go to Edit on the top bar, then you're offered Find - which will just find a word - or Replace, which will find a word and then replace it. I use Find and Replace a lot when I'm writing and editing.

1. When writing and I get stuck and want to jump I put XXX and then make the leap. Later on I can Find all those XXXs and then stick in whatever's needed to make the link.

2. When writing I might get an idea for a previous scene. Instead of scrolling back I put XXX and then make a note. Later, I use Find and look at all those notes.

3. When writing I know I've got certain...shall we say, quirks? If I'm stuck for a gesture on the first draft, I often have characters running their hands through their hair. This is fine once, twice maybe, but too many times and all my characters would look like cockatoos. Finding the phrase "running his hand" or "he ran his hand" means I can think of something better.

4. Which do you prefer? She felt as if a sledgehammer had whacked her...or...Bam! A sledgehammer whacked her...or...his words hit her like a sledgehammer. I could go on with different versions of sledgehammering, but the least effective uses "She felt". It's a distancing phrase, it puts the reader at arms length by telling us how she feels rather than showing. Bam! let's us feel the sledgehammer at the same time as she does. As a general rule, all "she felt"s can go, and Find is a useful tool for hunting them down. I also do it with "seemed" and "that" and have done it for adverbs too - type in ly and see how many come up.

5. Names. My characters change names a lot when I'm writing, especially minor ones. And then at the end I go back and check I haven't used similar names - I speak as one whose first draft of her first novel featured Patrick, Pat, George, Gerry and Jenny. It's easy to change names using Find and Replace BUT be careful before you press the OK button. I have changed names like Gus to Nick, and ended up with words like AuNickt and disNickting. Get round it by adding spaces before and after the names, or press the Next button rather than All so you can check each one before you change.

6. If I cut bits out from a draft I stick them at the end of the document so I have them to hand if I either want them back, or think there might be a nifty phrase or bit of dialogue lurking that I can use later. I put *THE END* at the end of the book (which is good for morale) and then cut and paste them after it.  (Putting the * * means I don't get mixed up with phrases like 'she thought it was the end of everything'.)  That way I can easily find where I am so far, and how much of the whole document is discard.


Liz Fielding said...

I do stick all my major cuts at the bottom of the doc, too, Sarah. Some of them never get put back in. Once I forgot they were there and my editor got a book with all this stuff at the bottom. I'd have thought it was obvious what it was, but she phoned me, asking what was wrong with the final scene.

Another lesson, never think your editor knows what you do.

Shauna said...

I had to smile reading your post, as I've just spent the afternoon with xxx's restructuring my novel. Lovely to find that someone else does the same.

I'd be lost without Find and Replace, and the end of my document is also full of 'bits and pieces'.

Great minds must think alike!

Liz Harris said...

It took me a while to realise that you needed a space before and after names before changing them in the text. I had some pretty weird results before the penny dropped.

Thank you for flagging 'She felt'. I feel (sorry!) that I might be guilty of that and will be alert when I edit the work in progress.

Liz X

Jean Bull said...

Thanks, Sarah, for some more good ideas. I've used Find and Replace for changing punctuation etc, but I'd never thought of using it in such a constructive way. XXX!

Philip C James said...

I have whole conversations between XXXXX and YYYYY (with interjections by ZZZZZ). I also now write each scene in a separate file so I can simply reorder scenes and chapters by changing the order they are imported into a Master Document containing nothing much more than the Chapter numbers. I keep previous versions of each scene so copy I want to recover is still available...

Philip C James said...

And a very useful post, I should add, Sarah!

Sarah Duncan said...

Liz, love your editor story. She must have been completely baffled.

Shauna, great minds? Yes, of course - was there any doubt?

Liz, I know, I've done it too. Too many 'she felt's deadens the prose IMO.

Jean, you're welcome!

Phil, that sounds too complicated for me, but whatever works for you is right. And, thanks!

Edith said...

Lots of great advice here for handling all those itty bitty problems! Thanks!

womagwriter said...

All good tips, thanks Sarah.

Another use I make of F&R is reformatting. I like to write by leaving a blank space between each paragraph rather than indenting - ie formatting as for the web. I find this easier for reading and editing on screen.

Before submitting the story/novel, I reformat for print by using Find and Replace - find all double paragraph marks and replace with paragraph and tab. In Special you'll find these characters - I do a find ^p^p and change to ^p^t.

Liz Fielding said...

I did this for "seemed" and "she felt" on the wip progress yesterday. Magic!

Paul Sampson said...

My first reaction to all this is to feel sympathy for the folks at Microsoft. They'd be doing all that hair-tearing, teeth-gnashing, and garment-asunder-renting business after reading this. Oh, and the wailing. Don't forget the wailing.

They've gone to all the trouble of providing stuff in Word for every single thing you've described here. They have bookmarks, they have annotations, tokens, replaceable place-holders, revisioning and versioning. It's been in word, like, forever.

But if all you need is XXX, I suppose - on balance - I'm with you. It's just 'easier' to do it that way, probably more obvious, and it clearly works for you.

But you are paying - twice - for your XXXs. Once for the software you're not using, and again for doing, yourself, the work it would have saved you.

Jenny Harper said...

You don't need spaces before and after. All you need to do is click on the little arrow on the bottom left of the Find box, then check the boxes 'Match case' and 'Find whole words only'.

Nice blog though, thanks!

Claudia Cruttwell said...

I hadn't thought of using find and replace to search for well worn phrases like running fingers through hair. I have a feeling my characters tend to 'look' at each other a lot, or 'give a look' so I'm going to check for this now. Thanks!

Sarah Duncan said...

Edith - you're welcome!

Womagwriter - thanks for that, that's a really useful one.

Liz - glad it's been useful

Paul - I'm a dinosaur I'm afraid. I know there are lots of clever things I could be doing, but I don't think it matters if I don't them so long as the writing gets done.

Jenny -Thanks for that tip.

Claudia - glad it's useful. My characters are always running their hands through their hair, or biting their lips so it really helps me.