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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Relying on Spell Check and Grammar Check

Relying on Spell Check and Grammar Check

No matter what program you use, it likely has one or both of these functions.  However, while both are good things to have, please don’t rely on them.  Spell check can’t tell you that you should have used their instead of they’re.  It can’t tell you that you’ve transposed words.  I’ve even seen cases where the grammar function suggested an author replace “a unicorn” with “an unicorn”, simply because unicorn starts with a vowel, but “an unicorn” is incorrect.  Not only does “a vs. and” rely on whether the word starts with a vowel or not, it also relies on what sound the first letter makes.  Hence, “an hour” instead of “a hour”, “a unicorn” instead of “an unicorn”.  Make sure you read your manuscript during revisions.

And please, do not use global replace or replace all unless you’re absolutely certain the word you’re replacing isn’t part of another word.  We don’t really think about it until something draws our attention to it, but so many of our smaller words are contained within larger ones.  For example, say you’re writing a short story where your only character is female.  You decide to make her a guy.  You use replace all to change her to him.  Whoops!  Now all of the chickens on his farm no longer have feathers.  They now have feathims.  This can make for interesting reading, but it’s not a good idea.

In one manuscript I received, I sent the author an R&R because she had a really good story with some minor issues.  One thing I noticed was an odd use of the word “willow”.

Willow breath...

Willow brook...

I finally realized the author probably meant to use the word “shallow”, but since this was in an original world, I decided to mention it in my R&R.  It could have easily been a situation where the people in her world used “willow” in this fashion.  When the author responded to the R&R email, she knew exactly what had happened.  She had been using formal language in an earlier version of the manuscript and decided to make the language less formal to keep the dialogue from being stilted.  She did a replace all on the word “shall”, changing it to “will”.  Hence, “willow breath”.  Darn shame, too.  I kinda liked the unique usage of “willow”!


mshatch said...

As much I like spell check and grammar check, I don't always follow the suggestions given. And that's a good point about find and replace - I never thought of that!

dolorah said...

I've been reading a lot of misused words lately. Like, the author got tired of using one descriptive word/phrase, so consulted a thesaurus and just picked something not usually used. Problem is, it did not really fit the context, even though it is an alternate usage. I do think authors rely too much on those red/green/blue lines to tell them where mispellings, grammar, and punctuation errors are. The programs can't catch them all, and like you mention, a lot of times are wrong. And doesn't always catch missing or improper used words, which can pull some readers out of the story. I've started printing my stories and reading them aloud; I have a tendency to still read what should be there when reading off the computer, even reading aloud.

Liz A. said...

Grammar check will also tell me that the word I'm using, the word that works in that context, is incorrect. When it's not. I've learned to read all the grammar checks to make sure what it's catching is something that needs to be caught.

This reminded me of a question I have. In my MS, I have a king. One member of my writers' group commented that when I'm referring to the king, I should capitalize even when I'm using "king" and not his name. I thought this was wrong, but looked it up, and apparently king is supposed to be capitalized in this circumstance.

Anyway, my question: what's the reality of this? Should king be capitalized or not? (After I went through and searched and replaced all kings--which I had to do manually as "king" is part of talking, walking, et al.)

Angela said...

Mshatch, that's what I do as well. When I see something's been flagged, I take a look at it and if it's not actually an issue, I'll ignore it and move on.

Delorah, I've encountered that. They'll find a word that has a similar meaning, but which isn't usually used in that particular context. Most of the time when I come across it, I try to give the author examples of how they could rephrase the sentence so they don't lose the context, but which also avoids repetition of the word or phrase.

Liz...ick. King vs. king is always contradicted. Which style guide do you follow? CMoS says to only capitalize it if it precedes the name, but I think others might contradict that.

King Roderick commanded it.

The king commanded it.

However, if your story is set in the UK, and you plan to submit to UK publishers, leave it capitalized. It's common for British authors to capitalize it in nearly every usage regarding royalty because the "of England" part is often implied. When they refer to the prince, the king, or the queen, they are referring to THE Prince, THE King, and THE Queen.

The Queen is at Buckingham today.

In all honesty, it can be a bit of a gray area, especially when it's used as a title.

Do you require anything more, My King?

However, if you weren't talking to the king, my king wouldn't be capitalized.

My king is a just ruler.

But I've even seen arguing over this. There are those who will say that "My King" in the first sentence shouldn't be capitalized. Personally, I disagree with that. If you were talking to a judge and you called him "Your Honor", that's a title that you're using in place of "Judge Justice". I feel it should be capitalized. Others will argue that "my" in the first sentence shouldn't be capitalized. I disagree. In the first sentence, "my" becomes part of the title. Therefore, I feel it should be capitalized, just as "your" in "Your Honor". When it's used as a title like this, I personally feel it's disrespectful to leave it lowercase.

There are those who are going to argue that you should always capitalize "king" when it's referring to a specific king, and there are those who are going to say you should only capitalize it if it precedes the king's name. When I was in school, we were taught to always capitalize it if we were referring to a specific king. Well, say a story only had one king in it. So EVERY reference to the king was in reference to a specific king. Based on that, you would have written:

King Roderick wasn't feeling well yesterday.

The King was running a fever yesterday, but he is much better today.

However, now CMoS says that in the second sentence, it shouldn't be capitalized.

The king was running a fever yesterday, but he is much better today.

It says the same for "the president". Unless it's the actual title or unless it's followed by the name, it shouldn't be capitalized.

The President of the United States is visiting Georgia today.

President Washington was the first president.

The president lives in the White House.

The president went jogging today.

So, with the exception of writing a novel set in the UK for UK publishers, I would say to leave it lowercase, unless it's followed by the king's name, or unless it's used as a title. Also, keep in mind that different publishers often have different guidelines on the capitalization of titles, and the editor will make sure you follow their guidelines. Are you submitting this for publication, or are you self-publishing?

Liz A. said...

Yeah, I figured it was a bit of that. Can go either way. I'm still editing, so once I finish I'll then decide whether to look for an agent, a small press, or self-publish.

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