A MS Word Macro to Spot Simultaneity Issues in your WIP

macro

Jami Gold recently had two articles on using Macros to help in your editing and polishing phase of your manuscript: MS Word Trick: Using Macros to Edit and Polish and Fix Showing vs. Telling with Macros & Word Lists.

Jami does an excellent job of showing you how to insert and use macros, so I won’t repeat that here. The first link also gives a ton of different macros you can use. Come back here after you’ve read those two, and I’ll share with you another one: SimultaneityCheck.

Why check for Simultaneity Issues?

There are two helpful flags to look for in your WIP that could spell trouble: phrases employing -ing verbs and ‘as’ constructions.

Why can these flag trouble? Because in certain cases, they can mean that the actions are happening at the same time. I say certain cases, because ‘as’ is also used to introduce metaphors, and clearly that’s not implying two events are happening at the same time. Also, there are instances where a word ending in -ing is not kicking off a dependent clause.

But what do I mean?

Examples with ‘as':

As Frank opened the fridge, the leftovers fell onto his feet

Frank opened the door for Sally as she walked up

These don’t happen at the same exact time. In the first instance, he opens the fridge and then the leftovers fall out. So it’s better to write it that way:

Frank opened the fridge and the leftovers spilled onto his feet.

‘As’ constructions can also be a flag that you have your stimulus and response reversed, like in the second instance. Those two actions aren’t happening at that exact same instant. In fact, Sally walking up is the stimulus for Frank opening the door. So this would be clearer written this way:

Sally walked up, hips swaying. Frank grinned and opened the door.

Not the most exciting prose, but you get the idea. While I’m analyzing my ‘as’ constructions, I also check to make sure I don’t have my response before my stimulus.

For more explanation on catching these and similar types of phrases, see Janice Hardy’s post: Don’t Tell Me Why: Words That Often Tell, Not Show

Examples with ‘-ing':

Walking down the sidewalk, Sally winked at Frank as she passed him

I also threw in an ‘as’ construction just to show how easy it is to fall back on these types of constructions. Here, the first clause is a participial phrase, and she can’t be doing the winking and passing of Frank the whole time she’s walking down the sidewalk.

There can be other issues to check for with -ing constructions that comprise a participial phrase, like misplaced modifiers, and using these in action scenes. Generally, these types of phrases suit more quiet, contemplative scenes. When action hits, use simple past tense verbs.

The example could be revised to show like this:

Sally sauntered down the sidewalk, her new silk skirt making her feel like the cutest knees of any bee’s knees. Oh, there’s Frank, the sly dog, looking all sexy leaning against the picnic table. She winked.

Again, the prose I was just having fun with and the metaphor probably doesn’t even make sense, but hey, I need to get this blog posted. You get the idea ;) This draws the reader in more and shows the actions in order.

When I analyze my -ing constructions, I also check to make sure:

  • It’s not a misplaced modifier
  • That I’m not telling instead of showing
  • That I’m not in an action scene
  • That there’s a comma after the participial phrase

For more information and explanation of why this could be a flag that you’re telling and not showing, see #3 at this post by Shirley Jump: Show Not Tell: What the Heck is that Anyway?

So, searching for these can be tedious, and since they’re both flags for the same thing, I combined them into a macro!

The SimultaneityCheck Macro:

Sub SimultaneityCheck()
'
' SimultaneityCheck Macro
'
' Highlights words that might indicate simultaneous actions that aren't possible,
' or that stimulus and response are out of order
' "&chr(10)&"Written by Angela Quarles @angelaquarles
'
 
 Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow
 Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
 Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
 Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True
 
 'Finding as constructions

 With Selection.Find
 .Text = "as"
 .Replacement.Text = "as"
 .Forward = True
 .Wrap = wdFindContinue
 .Format = True
 .MatchCase = False
 .MatchWholeWord = True
 .MatchWildcards = False
 .MatchSoundsLike = False
 .MatchAllWordForms = False
 End With
 Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
 
 'Finding words that end in -ing
 
 With ActiveDocument.range.Find
 .Text = "<[! ][! ]@ing>"
 .Replacement.Highlight = True
 .Replacement.Text = "^&"
 .Forward = True
 .Wrap = wdFindStop
 .Format = True
 .MatchWildcards = True
 .Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
 End With
 
' This will unhighlight certain -ing words

 Dim range As range
 Dim i As Long
 Dim TargetList

 ' list of terms to unhighlight. There's probably a more elegant way to exclude them within the code that highlights, but this works too
 ' be careful of adding a noun like 'meeting' or 'being' (as in human being) which also acts as a verb
 TargetList = Array("something", "nothing", "everything", "anything", "morning", "evening", "ding", "king", "ping", "sing", "wing", "zing", "bing", "thing", "things", "happening", "bring", "sting", "ring", "starling", "seedling", "swing", "annoying", "breeding", "exciting", "stimulating", "interesting", "unflinching", "appalling")

 For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList)

 Set range = ActiveDocument.range

 With range.Find
 .Text = TargetList(i)
 .Format = True
 .MatchCase = False
 .MatchWholeWord = True
 .MatchWildcards = False
 .MatchSoundsLike = False
 .MatchAllWordForms = False

Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
 range.HighlightColorIndex = wdNoHighlight
 Loop

 End With
 Next
End Sub

Revisit Jami’s post to learn how to add a macro to Word and add this one to your arsenal and soon you’ll be fixing those problem areas!

Do you use macros to help with editing and polishing? What do you like to use them for? New to macros and have questions? Ask and I’ll see if I can answer.

Dealing with Critiques and Reviews – the 40-20-40 Rule

One of my earliest blog posts was about dealing with critiques and I shared what I called the 30-40-30 rule that I learned from my uncle. Well I just had a short vacation with said uncle and found out I had the percentage wrong! He said it’s 40-20-40! So here’s my old post, revised a tad with that calculation.

As a writer, at some point you will reach the stage where you will need to have others critique your work. There are many reasons to do so that others have covered before, but as a former computer programmer, one way I like to look at it is: you cannot test your own code. You think you’ve written the program to do exactly what you want, you test it and hand it off to the Beta tester. And they find mistakes. The reason is because they didn’t build it and so don’t know your thinking behind it and do what comes natural to them. Consequently, they take paths you never dreamed of and hadn’t tested for. Yikes!

How does this relate to writing? You think you’ve sufficiently explained motives behind character actions, or have shown the emotional reaction sufficiently because YOU know the character so well and know EXACTLY why they’re doing it and fail to see that it didn’t quite come across the way you pictured it. Oops! A good critiquer or beta reader will find these ‘thin spots’ for you.

Okay, so you’re ready to get critiques? Are you sure? I’d like to tout again this great advice from Writer Musings: How To Get The Most Out Of A Critique, Part Three: if you don’t know the heart of your story, you are not ready for feedback. This is so true because you are going to get a wide array of feedback. And by wide array, I mean some folks will hate a particular line and others will like that same one. Soon, you’ll be wanting to pull out your hair. Or, worse, you’ll take every single suggestion as gospel and water down your story, your voice, to such a state that it will be milquetoast.

The problem is, if you’re doing things right, I think, you’ll have some people not like it. Crazy I know. But I think I’m right. Here’s why. If you have a unique voice or your characters’ voices are interesting and unique, that means some people are not going to like it. It’s just not their thang. And that’s okay. Make it bland, though? No one will find it objectionable, but are any of them excited? Probably not.

So what’s a writer to do? I like to invoke my uncle’s 40-20-40 rule. He got this advice when he became dean of a department — 40% of the people are going to like you no matter what, 40% will not like you no matter what, it’s the 20% in the middle you need to worry about. This rule is so handy and applicable that I’ve quoted it many times for different scenarios. It’s why politicians are really in trouble if they drop below 40% in the approval ratings, because they’re losing folks that would normally support them no matter what.

When writing, use this rule, too, during your critique period and also when it’s published. Make sure you show your draft to people outside of your 40%-guaranteed likes (i.e. your family and friends). One excellent place to get a wide sampling and great advice is my favorite critique forum: Critique Circle. It runs by a credit system — the more you crit others, the more credits you earn and so the more you can post for review. The other part I like is that it is broken up by genre and there are only a certain number of slots for each, so you’re guaranteed to get crits, unlike other sites where you join a huge long list and folks have to wade through. The more crits given in a particular genre for that week’s cycle, the more slots available for that genre for the next week. Check it out.

But then be prepared for diverse opinions! It can be very overwhelming and it’s tempting to take every single piece of advice. Make sure you evaluate each one, even if it’s contrary or hard to swallow. They may have an excellent point. Take a few days and let it sink in. If it will make your piece stronger, use it. If it resonates with you as the writer and fits with your vision, use it. But if it doesn’t, don’t. You’ll get ‘critters’ who don’t like your genre, so of course they’re probably not going to like your piece. Evaluate to see if the critter ‘gets’ what you’re trying to say/tell. You’ll soon get the hang of it. I had one critter in the beginning that was telling me to delete things that were what made my character different. She didn’t like the character and so was watering her down to what she liked. I didn’t take her advice because I knew this was how my character thought, and others were liking this exact aspect of her.

So, I’m going to risk that 40% will not like my character and my story and hoping the 20% in the middle do.

EDIT: A sharp commenter noted that this is a breakdown of the Pareto Principle, known as the 80/20 rule. The lesson is the same: concentrate on capturing that elusive 20% in the middle, and the 40 on either end are the ‘trivial 80%’ noted in Pareto’s Principle!

What has been your critique experience? Do you find this rule applicable as well? Do you think the percentage distribution is right? Or do you feel 30-40-30 is more accurate?

Photo by jared

Tweetables

  • Dealing with Critiques or Reviews – the 40-20-40 Rule click to tweet
  • When evaluating crits & reviews, aim for the 20% in the middle! The 40-20-40 rule click to tweet

Are you using a thesaurus correctly? And is this irony?

179909_620791327948192_959396268_nSometimes I wonder about the universe and how it will sync random events to make a point, teach us something, or just plain laugh at us.

Case in point

Yesterday, a fellow writer posted this some-ecard with the quote from Stephen King on Facebook and I wrote the following comment:

I don’t know– I think there’s an exception–if you’re only using words you find in there that you already know well and have just forgotten it, and so you’re like “oh, yes, that’s a good one.” Problem is when people use it to use words they don’t know and so potentially use it in the wrong context or it has a shade of meaning they are unfamiliar with. Or are just trying to use ‘impressive’ words. I sometimes (I’m of a certain age) find that I also forget nice simple words too.

And then I proceed to fire up the old Kindle to read a new book that should be right up my alley–a quirky, nerdy heroine stumbling toward love. It was recommended by another writer in a blog post as a refreshing, new voice and I just had to check it out. It started out great (voice, check), and I do really like the quirky, nerdy heroine (check), but soon I started cringing.

The problem?

The writer is using a vocabulary wider than her own. It clearly suffers from thesaurusitis and while the heroine is supposed to be über smart and nerdy, and so it would seem to be appropriate for the heroine to have a great vocabulary and use big words, the problem is, the writer doesn’t have the same vocabulary as the heroine she’s trying to write and so is using words that she thinks portrays the synonym for the word she looked up, but the shade of meaning or context is completely wrong. Making for some unintentional funny moments. Frankly, it’s spoiled the book for me, though I’m still going to continue reading it today just because I do like the heroine and her situation. But I won’t be recommending it to anyone. My co-worker asked if it was supposed to be intentional, but I don’t think so–this character isn’t being portrayed as someone who thinks she’s smart and using words in the wrong context to provide hilarity, she’s actually supposed to be smart.

And is this irony or just Alanis Morissette irony?

I hate to admit this, but I struggle with whether something is true irony, so help a girl out. Is the fact that I wrote that comment on Facebook saying there is an exception and then on the same day I start a book that illustrates the other half of my comment:

Problem is when people use it to use words they don’t know and so potentially use it in the wrong context or it has a shade of meaning they are unfamiliar with.

Is that true irony? Because I rarely read a book that suffers from thesaurusitis and it was kinda freaky for me to start one on the same day that did.

Do you agree with Stephen King re: thesaurus usage? Or, do you use one? And if so, how?

Tweetables:

  • Today @AngelaQuarles asks: Are you using a thesaurus correctly? And is this irony? click to tweet
  • Is a thesaurus useful or do you agree with Stephen King that a writer should never use it?  @angelaquarles click to tweet

Guest Post: Strategies for Replenishing Your Writing Self

angela_verticalbooksToday I’m on Mina Khan’s blog with “Strategies for Replenishing Your Writing Self” where I share what I do when I’m burnt out, discouraged, or hit a setback. What do YOU do?

Getting Around on the Webz: Links to Interviews

downloadContinuing with promotion week for BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS, here’s where I’ll be today!

Donna Cummings

Where we chat about geekdom, writing and tea!

Babette James

Where I share some inside scoops on writing, fave food, and an excerpt from the opening

Jessica Kong

Where I share my writing journey and aspects of my writing life

And word is, it will be available on Monday, Dec 24 on Amazon!

The Case for an Awesome Title: Why It’s Important and How to Come Up With One

Today I’m guest blogging over at Jillian Chantal’s blog on The Case for an Awesome Title: Why It’s Important and How to Come Up With One, stop on by and say hi!

Lessons from NaNoWriMo + Novel Plotting Spreadsheet (Downloadable)

downloadWhew! Did you make it past the goal line? If you didn’t, did you write more than you did in October? What things did you learn from the experience? This is my third year participating and my third year winning, finishing two days early!

This year was different for me as it’s the first one I’ve done since I’ve started taking my writing seriously and the first one since I participated in FastDrafting with Candace Havens (in which you have to write twice as much in half the time). My first NaNo in 2009 was an historical mystery and is accreting dust balls under my bed (it really is, I looked the other day when I swept my room). But, it did teach me that I could complete a novel-length project. I was so scared to participate, thinking there was no way I could write that much in that amount of time. In 2010 I still didn’t know what I was doing, and with a premise and a vague sense of what was going to happen, I wrote what became MUST LOVE BREECHES. Took me almost two years to learn even more about my craft and what things needed fixing with that manuscript, but I finally got it in shape and have hopes for it finding a home next year.

In May, I took an even scarier plunge and participated in Fast Draft and wrote 56K in 14 days (STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY). BUT, this time I’d spent a month plotting out my story and getting to know my characters’ GMCs. That experience taught me several things which I realized at the time, but several things came to light only when I participated in NaNoWriMo this past month.

I’m a Plotser

What’s a plotser? A cross between a pantser and a plotter, with maybe a wee bit more emphasis on the pre-plotting. With Hurricane Sandy and other circumstances, my new agent (signed only on Oct 4) and I weren’t able to coordinate on what direction to take for a sequel to MUST LOVE BREECHES. So for most of October, I wasn’t even sure if I was participating in NaNoWriMo. Then at the end of the month, I decided to take up a premise that had nothing to do with BREECHES so I wouldn’t waste my time writing a sequel she didn’t want. However, that meant I’d not spent time plotting at all. I had what I thought was a fun premise and a sense of who the H/h were and so started one day late on November 2. I caught up with everyone over the weekend and was doing swimmingly until about Day 5, then my word count dribbled downward and things ground to a halt. I had no idea where I was going with this and I didn’t like feeling that way. This wasn’t the normal ‘what I’m writing is drivel’ feeling, I really felt like all my characters were just spinning their wheels waiting for something to happen. Like the plot. Ugh. A local writer friend sagely advised me to take a break for a week, two weeks, to figure out the plot and then do a FastDraft blitz at the end. So I did! I ended up creating a spreadsheet to help myself stay focused on what I needed to discover, and I’m going to share it with you at the end of this post.

Confidence

Her advice was great, because I knew from my experience with FastDraft how much I could write in a day if I really pushed. So I took four days off and just brainstormed (and created the spreadsheet) and I didn’t feel panicked that I was getting behind.  I knew I could write 3500-4000 words in a day if I had to and so I took as many days as I needed. I kept an eye on the NaNo ticker of how much I’d need to write in a day to finish and when it got a  little past 2K and I felt good about my plot and characters, I dived back in.

My goal

The reason I didn’t wait until 3500? Before I started, I’d decided to see if I could do NaNo without interrupting my normal life of seeing friends and watching the few TV shows I follow, etc. I didn’t want it to be all consuming. And it worked. Thanksgiving wasn’t harried at all as far as my writing went. I took off Thursday and had enough words banked where I could write below 1667 for Friday and Saturday (and just snatched an hour during the day to do it), and on Sunday I did my word goal in the morning before I had breakfast with my brother and sister-in-law and hit the road to head home.

The spreadsheet

Since I didn’t have the leisurely month to pre-plot and sit in front of my physical storyboard with sticky notes brainstorming scenes, I was searching for something to help me kick start this premise into a story. The storyboard/sticky note was too detailed of a process and I needed something more high level than that, but not as high level as the one sheet beat sheet created by Blake Snyder in Save the Cat. So this spreadsheet I created during that 4-day hiatus of plot brainstorming.

storyengineeringworksheet

The genesis of the spreadsheet is from Jami Gold. I took her spreadsheet, which is a beat sheet for your plot all on one page, but I added to it as I worked through what I needed to discover and there were also other plotting devices I wanted on there. So after a lot of fiddling, I came up with a Story Engineering Worksheet. It takes a page for each Act/Part (four total) and is based heavily on Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, with spaces for you to scribble in the H/h’s default third dimension of character and what the new third dimension will be at the end (their character arc). I’m also heavily influenced by Alexandra Sokoloff‘s Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II and so I created spaces for you to write in the thematic words/image system you want to use for each act. The guts of it, however, comes from Jami Gold and her beat sheet, which pulls from Elizabeth Davis’ Save the Cat Beat Sheet. Thanks you two!

If you haven’t read any of these books, you need to! And some of the things on this worksheet will not make as much sense without having read them. If you have, then this worksheet will help pull all that knowledge into one spot and remind you what you need for each phase of the story.

Hope you like it! Please feel free to ask me any questions you might have!

So what incidental goals did you have for NaNo? What things did you learn about yourself and your writing process?

 

How Accurate Do Your Historicals Need To Be?

I’ve heard various opinions on this, either in conversations with fellow writers or in blog posts. One thing I’ve found is that opinion amongst those romance writers I’ve talked to vary WIDELY.

One writer I talked to, when I said that the historical inaccuracies in one NYT Bestselling Author used to bother me, but her delightful writing and humor won me over, stated she couldn’t read her works because of the inaccuracies. I’ve heard others say that they don’t worry too much about historical accuracy when writing because they consider the historical past a fantasy world.

I think I fall somewhere between, with my bar as a writer higher than as a reader.

While I agree that the worlds we are creating for our reader are fantasy worlds, that fantasy world can be popped if we’re too careless with facts. It’s true that we write about situations and events that might not have happened, heck, I wrote a time travel, and we know there just weren’t that many scorchingly handsome, progressive-thinking single dukes to be had in Regency England for our Bluestocking heroine. But I do think we have a responsibility to be as accurate as we can while still creating that fantasy world for our readers.

I feel like if a book has the basics down, I’m able to suspend my disbelief and immerse myself in the straight-up Regency with the aforementioned hijinks of the duke and heroine, or into the wonderful world of vampires, werewolves and tea in Victorian England, like Gail Carriger’s wonderful Parasol Protectorate series. I wonder if it’s the same level of tolerance paranormal writers talk about? You can have one made up thing/premise, but throw in more and you risk popping that bubble?

So if the premise is what we’re making up, shouldn’t we try to be as accurate as possible with the day-to-day, non-plot elements? Nothing yanks me out of that world than simple historical details that could easily be fixed without affecting the plot. Some things that yanked me out recently:

  • Addressing someone by the wrong title. It should have been Lady Something, not Miss Something
  • Introduction etiquette–who-gets-introduced-first type of thing.
  • Having the heroine refer to wearing bloomers (and using that word) in a Regency. Not only a problem with word choice, but they didn’t wear pantaloons or drawers in the early Regency.
  • Having an historical character know that a Jane Austen novel was written by Jane Austen and the book is set prior to 1817. I blogged about fact-checking last year and about this particular date.
  • Using modern day valuations for transactions. I remember one historical where the hero gave the heroine like a 100,000 British pounds piece of jewelry. While yes, today, that would be extremely expensive and would show how wealthy the dude was, did the writer understand how freakishly, astronomically expensive that would have been in modern terms when converted to the valuation of the pound in the novel’s time?
  • Using the word fiancé or fianceé in a Regency. They used the word betrothed until about the 1850s.
  • A Scotsman from the 900s wielding a claymore.

I know that there’s way more than this that will yank me out, but that’s all I can think of that I remember, or came across in my reading in the last week (wish I’d taken notes!). I also know we can’t possibly get everything accurate, because sometimes even historians are divided about what really happened. And also because sometimes we just can’t know. Or it’s something that only someone with a doctorate in history would happen to know. After all, we’re not writing non-fiction, we are writing entertainment. But for things that are basic, like what they ate and wore, etc., we should strive to be as accurate as possible. That’s my take.

Also, others might look at some of my examples and roll their eyes as their tolerance as a reader is lower. And that’s fine. It’s all about the reader and what keeps their willing suspension of disbelief.

This also underscores how important Beta readers are. I know mine have caught numerous historical inaccuracies and anachronisms in mine! (Thank you!)

As a reader, where do you fall on this spectrum? Writers, how accurate do you strive to be? As a writer, is your reading tolerance higher or lower than what you write?

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Baumgartner Space Jump LEGO Reenactment!

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” by U2

NEWS: This week MUST LOVE BREECHES won 1st place in FF&P’s On the Far Side contest in the time travel/steampunk/historical category and a full request from the judging editor. It also finaled today in the Windy City Four Seasons Contest, paranormal category

Writing and the Writing Life:

Browncoats:

In Geekdom:

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Oppan Klingon Style (Gangnam parody)

Song playing right now on my playlist: “I Shall Believe,” by Sheryl Crow

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writers:

In Geekdom:

  • And I’ll leave you with this KLINGON STYLE (Star Trek Parody of PSY – GANGNAM STYLE) – h/t: @geekgirldiva — they’re even singing it in Klingon (turn on subtitles)!