Thursday, 3 February 2011

Search & Replace or Search & Reproach?

I've been rewriting my first novel this past month. When I say rewriting I don't mean a little tweak here and there, I mean cutting out entire scenes, killing off some characters and resuscitating others.

Anyway, when I got to the end I realized I had to change my hero's name. Well, I must be honest, it wasn't me being clever, it was Julie Cohen nudging me to consider my mistake. So there I was on page 1 of my manuscript summoning the Search & Replace window to change the name. However, I've suffered many disasters in the past with the S&R -forgetting to activate the Whole Word and Match Case options may prove catastrophic- and my hand began to tremble as the cursor hovered over Replace All so I decided to go for the safe alternative, i.e. replace them one by one.

If you're not careful, changing Mac to Tom indiscriminately might make your characters eat tomaroni, hold a tomhine gun or put on a tom for the rain. On the other hand, changing Tom for Mac might make them eat macatoes, stroke a maccat or leave it till macorrow.

In fact I mentioned my fear of Search & Replace on twitter and I got several examples of Word disasters:

Miranda Dickinson, author of Fairytale of New York changed Eric for Zac and ended up in Amzaca.

Word can change your story of its own accord too. The autocorrect option may drive your story in a completely new direction:

Susanna Kearsley author of Mariana found her Sir Geoffrey de Mornay of Crofton Hall turned into Sir Ego de Moron of Crouton Hall, her swordfights turned into swordfish and the approaching hoofbeats into approaching houseboats. It certainly gave the plot an extraordinary turn.

Julie Cohen author of Getting Away With It on the other hand nearly had her hero Angus re-baptised as Anus which would probably have sent her book to the erotica section in bookshops.

So, as much as I love Word, I know it can betray you when you're not looking and nothing must prevent us from reading through our work once we've finished it. A single click could make so much damage to a manuscript.

Have you had any Word disasters?


  1. LOL It'd be really funny to read though, wouldn't it? Like you, I always make such changes on a *one-at-a-time* basis. Too scared to do otherwise.

  2. ive had some pretty big mistakes in my day. i once lost 10 pages to Word. i still to this day, have no idea what happened.

  3. Oh my God - this is hilarious. Search and replace is such a killer. I once changed all single quotes to double quotes, and it ended up changing all the apostrophes to double quotes, too. Not exactly a disaster, but SO annoying.

  4. It is so funny how a piece of technology that was meant to be helpful has us all trembling in fear before its mighty and mischievous power!

    I always replace one by one :D

  5. Hmmmm, like all technology it has its faults!

  6. Oye.. yes.. especially with formatting... Word loves to reformat my MS randomly!

  7. This is a clever post, and now that you discuss it, I can recall similar incidents in my writing.

    What I can't explain, however, is when I use the Search and Replace function, and yet it misses some correct hits. I changed one character's name from Eve to Irene (yes, I had a good reason to do that), yet in some later chapters, Eve was still there. One of my readers spotted it.

    No doubt it was operator error, but still . . .

  8. That is just soooo funny. I'm making the kids tomaroni for dinner just so I can say it aloud. As always, am in awe of your command of my mother tongue, it's better than my own. I bow to you.

  9. Great post! My only disaster was when I tried to be consistent with ok, OK and Okay. Lots of boOK, loOK, toOK etc. Doh!


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