“Replace All” should have flashing warning lights

imagesImagine you’re writing a tautly plotted detective story, and your tough-guy PI’s name is Stephen “Sting” Raye. Imagine your beautifully crafted tale has lines like this in it:

He saw the setup. He could spot it a mile away. He was probably the only fellow in the audience who guessed the setup in that Paul Newman movie, “The Sting” before twenty minutes of the flick had rolled by…

When he caught her gaze, he was immediately taken by the deep blue of her arresting eyes…

“You know why they call me Sting, don’t you?” he hissed at the perp, gun to his neck. He didn’t wait for an answer but slapped the guy–hard–with the gun across the cheek, leaving red welts and watery eyes. “Sting. Like bees. I swarm in and sting.”

Now imagine you get this note from your editor after submitting the finished manuscript: “Love the whole thing, and, as you’ll see, I have very few notes. My only big suggestion is to change Sting’s name. It just doesn’t seem tough enough to me. And I don’t want people thinking of the rock star Sting. I’m open to your ideas.”

Turns out you weren’t that crazy about Sting’s name either. So you write a happy note back to the editor agreeing with her suggestion. You then change Sting’s name to Buck. And because you’re pressed for time, you decide to use the “replace all” function of MSWord.

You know what happens. But just in case  you’re unsure, here’s how the lines above would come out after using “replace all”:

He saw the setup. He could spot it a mile away. He was probably the only fellow in the audience who guessed the setup in that Paul Newman movie, “The Buck” before twenty minutes of the flick had rolled by…

When he caught her gaze, he was immediately taken by the deep blue of her arrebuck eyes…

“You know why they call me Buck, don’t you?” he hissed at the perp, gun to his neck. He didn’t wait for an answer but slapped the guy–hard–with the gun across the cheek, leaving red welts and watery eyes. “Buck. Like bees. I swarm in and buck.”

The “replace all” function should come with flashing, warning lights, as well as with messages such as “Approach with caution. Using this function will change every syllable that is the same as your replaced word, not just single words themselves.

Sorry to say, if you need to do a “replace” in your manuscript, the safest way to handle it is to use “replace” and keep hitting “next” to see if you really do want to insert the replacement in each particular instance. Otherwise, the results can be confusing. And embarrassing.

 

 

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About Libby Malin Sternberg

I'm a hard-working freelance editor and novelist with many books to my name, published by large and small presses -- everyone from Harlequin to Dorchester to Sourcebooks to Bancroft Press. And I have some indie-pubbed books to my name, as well. I've won some awards for books, been an Edgar nominee for a teen mystery, and have a film option on one novel. I write women's fiction and romance mostly, but do have teen mysteries on my back list. I also offer editing services to authors -- everything from light copy edits to more comprehensive developmental edits. References are available upon request. A major publisher employs me as a regular copy editor, and I used to edit for a small independent press, even making recommendations for manuscript acquisitions. Contact me at LibbyMalinSternberg (at) gmail (dot) com. Check out my books at www.LibbySternberg.com.
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