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Advice/Q&A
January, 2008


Greek Ghosts

IN Editing Tricks
Writing well using high-tech
By  Helen Dunn Frame

Juggling sentences, typos and grammar all present challenges easily overcome.
"Writing is five percent inspiration and 95% hard work." Anon

My former mother-in-law, with agents in New York City and London, sold more than thirty books to a variety of publishers including Dell, E. P. Dutton and Popular Library. To my surprise, her most recent book was printed by greatunpublished.com (defunct), now known as Book Surge http://www.booksurgepublishing.com/

Evidently no one edited it because it contains sentence fragments, often one right after another that should have been one sentence, countless typos and misused words, all of which distract the reader from the story line. Perhaps, as she approaches 100 years old, she was accustomed to having an editor provided by the publishers and may have assumed self-publishing companies provided this service. They do, but for a fee.

On the other hand, it made sense for me as an unknown author to use a Print-on-Demand (POD) publisher like Book Surge. Even though I composed on a computer, at the time I wasn't completely aware of the many tools available in word processing programs. The first time I submitted my novel Greek Ghosts, the reader said it had many grammatical errors. After I struggled to correct them, because I couldn't afford help, the second one said, "She must have hired someone because few errors remain." He noted the location of some of the remaining ones as I requested. Later I found more and some still crept into the final print version.

Recently I agreed to edit a serious non-fiction book. The author's mother tongue is Estonian; his first language, Spanish, and he writes in complex English with multiple references and quotes proving his topic of choice. Combine that with technical difficulties caused by a PC with Windows XP attempting to communicate with an ancient MAC . . . well, you get the picture.

Not long after beginning to read the manuscript, I realized he wrote many passive sentences, started countless ones with "And," "But," and "Therefore," and used the word "here" unnecessarily. Spell and Grammar Check only caught so much. I knew a method existed to facilitate finding them and turn an involved theory from a heady scientific textbook to one lay readers would find interesting. 

I started with the tool "Find." When I input the word "here," it selected not only the word but words containing the letters that enabled discovering that the word "where" often was used instead of "were."     

Next I used a word processing technique which simplifies finding passive sentences in order to create manuscripts that sparkle with active and descriptive words. The full directions for the "Passive Locator" are for Microsoft Word but may be adapted to other word processing programs. Be sure you are sitting down before attempting this exercise because your manuscript will look like it has the measles!

  • Go to the beginning of the piece
  • Click on Edit; Replace; More; and All
  • In the same menu, check "Match case" and "Find whole words only."
  • In the "Find what?" field, type in a word such as "be"
  • Place the same word in the Replace Field
  • Click "Format," select a colour (yellow is good) at the highlight icon (pencil) on your tool bar
  • Choose "highlight," (which should appear under the replace section of the window)
  • Then click "Replace All."

Repeat this for "am," "are," "is," "was," "were," "being," "become," "became," "been," "because," and "would." Don't forget "and," "but," and "because." Add to the list any word you know you favour. You'll be surprised at the metamorphosis of the manuscript when you rewrite sentences.

To eliminate the highlighting as you make corrections, click on the pencil highlight icon and highlight the word you want to change or keep. Click off the pencil, put the cursor where you want to write and make the change.

After you have done this, read the creation out loud. You'll find that often technology still doesn't catch everything. For example, did it recognize that you used "there" when it should have been "their?" Now have someone else, preferably a professional, read it for you. In addition to finding remaining errors, he or she might pinpoint something you thought was perfectly clear that isn't.

Gone are the days when one could sell an unpolished manuscript based on its story and editors had time to fine-tune it. Use all the tricks you know to write and edit the kind of sparkling article IN Editors demand and your by-line may appear online right here. Whether for IN or any other publisher the editing tricks displayed here will assist you in creating by far a much better written work.

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Helen Dunn Frame. A Syracuse University journalism school graduate, published in major newspapers, magazines and trade publications in the United States, England, and Germany. Her writing skills and love of travel led her to write her mystery novel Greek Ghosts. Email: helen@helendunnframe.com Web site: http://www.helendunnframe.com

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