Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Secret Ingredient is ELF

@DelilahSDawson Note to self: When you change the char's name from Tom to Jimbo with a blanket Find & Replace, you get a lot of Jimboomorrow.
That tweet from Delilah made me remember a story I meant to tell you guys!

So one of my clients wrote a manuscript. At a certain point, he decided that the "trolls" in the book should really be "elves"... and the use of Word's "Find & Replace" feature created some hi-larious mistakes.

Characters found themselves "selfing around" instead of strolling.  Trolleycars because "Elfeycars". A plate of sweetrolls became "sweeelves" - and you need a lotta coffee to wash those bad boys down, believe me.

These mistakes did not get caught until the book was almost printed, because, though they were all changed in the first pass, there was a mix-up with the versions. Whoopsie! So if it wasn't for some late-breaking intervention, there was a very real possibility that you'd have been trying to work out a good recipe for sweeelves while reading this book.

The point I am making might sound silly, but it can't be repeated often enough: Those little shortcuts and conveniences the computer lets you take with your manuscript can be handy and great, but you'd better not take for granted that they've worked properly. And when you think you are done re-reading, try taking a break, and re-reading again.

ETA: My sister sent me this episode of Radiolab- the first segment discusses innocent copyediting errors that lead to bigger unexpected problems. (Funny... but not for the person who loses their job over it)


  1. Excellent point, well made.

  2. Hahahaha!

    I can only laugh like that because I inadvertently did it once to a manuscript I was editing. I can't remember what it was, but my immense confusion helped me catch the mistake early. I'm VERY thankful about that.

    Just yesterday I had to mention to a writer that spellcheck is not always a good friend. ALWAYS do a thorough proofread after the last big spellcheck.

    When I worked at a large newspaper, a fledgling copyeditor hit the wrong button (change all) when he was going too fast through spellcheck. The reporter's byline (name) got changed in several articles, if I remember correctly. While very funny, it wasn't so much for the soon-unemployed copyeditor.

    One of my fave spellcheck errors, though, is the recipe in a local newspaper for "Vietnamese Fried Poodles."

    Excellent post, Jennifer. It makes me squinch just a little to know it nearly happened on such a big book. I so know what it feels like to avert disaster right before a book goes to print. *tries to ignore flashbacks*

  3. God, yes...during my year of writing with voice recognition software, of course the software didn't recognize any fantasy I'd give them more ordinary names and then find and replace. I am STILL finding mistakes here and there in the manuscripts I worked on during that time! It is very important to put SPACES in when you're doing find and replace...

  4. Yes, and my heroine will have even more butterflies in the aJimbos of her sJimboach Jimboorrow when she reads her favorite book, a very heavy Jimboe about Jimboahawks.

    V3, here I come.

    p.s. If only you had posted this yesterday, when today was still Jimboorrow.

  5. ROFL! I did the exact same thing (with different words, of course). I thought my computer had a virus. Once I figured out the pattern, I tried to curl up under the rug. ;-)

  6. LOL!!!

    One thing to do is to use SPACES in your find and replace. So if it's a name, for example, put Name1 in the find and Name2 in the replace with field. Then you still have to do one that is Name1 and Name2. Between the two of those, it should take care of MOST of them. But nothing substitutes for a close proofreading once you're done!

  7. Anonymous8:59 PM


    Using the "find and confirm" rather than the "change absolutely everything" function is the better way to go. And I saw Jackie's note on SPACES and remembered Lisa Yee's story about the time she inadvertently took all the spaces out of manuscript - and couldn't easily undo it.

  8. Which is why I always reread the final line-edited and galley as though my life depended on it!

    Learnt that the hard way with my debut novel.

    Not that I've done anything weird with find and replace... Yet.

    And now consider myself sufficiently warned!

    Thanks for this, it made me laugh quietly in my corner.

  9. When using the Find and Replace option, it's best to expand the search options and choose "Find Whole Words Only."

    I'm certain mistakes can be made with this, but it's not as big a problem when replacing names. But always best to double check.

    After using F&R, I do a "Find All" of the word I just replaced, and highlight all the words so I can quickly go through my manuscript and make sure they've been replaced properly. Thus far, no problems. :knock on wood.:

  10. I learned this lesson recently in my work in progress. I changed a character's name from Lance to Zane and while reading back over an earlier part of the ms, stumbled across a line where a character gzaned at something. I thought the find and replace feature was case sensitive. It's not. Now I find and replace individually. Definitely worth the few extra seconds.

  11. Yes! I've done that too! Great post!

  12. Ha! While I've used the find feature a ton to look for overused words, I have yet to use the find and replace tool. I have thought about it, though, so thank you for posting this!! That would SO be my luck :-)

  13. Eddie2:07 PM

    I actually found this post because article because the "sweeelves" were still in the book.

  14. eddie - is that the hardcover or the paperback? they were SUPPOSED to fix it for the paperback... sigh.

  15. Eddie2:43 PM



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