Thursday, December 10, 2009

Word processing shortcuts for character names

If you use word processing software, such as MS Word or Writer for Open Office, you may want to make use of some features that are excellent resources for writers. No matter which software you use, you should be able to use your Help file to find the following features, or something similar.

Automatically typing your characters' names

One of my favourite features is AutoText. AutoText matches the first three or four letters of common words, phrases, or paragraphs contained in its databank, and suggests them as you type. Pressing Enter when the word you require flashes above your insertion point will fill in the rest of that word for you. You can add to or edit the words and phrases in the AutoText databank.

In Word 2003, the AutoText feature is found under the Insert menu on your Menu Bar.

To turn AutoText on or off, check or uncheck the box next to "Show AutoComplete suggestions".

To add words or phrases to AutoText, type them into the available box. You can also copy the words from your document and paste them in (handy for words or names that contain special characters like "ç" or "ñ").

I add all my characters' names and the location names to the AutoText tool. It prevents misspelling of a name, and saves time, especially with surnames that don't necessarily get used throughout the book. It is very easy to go from Mackenzie to McKenzie, for example, if a few months have passed since you first decided on the name. And even if your shortcut was "mac" originally, and you're now trying to use "mc", a quick check of the AutoText list will show you where you've gone wrong. It can be even quicker than opening up your notes file.

Dictionary and AutoCorrect

If some of your characters' names are too short to make the AutoText option worthwhile, another good way to ensure that you're spelling their names consistently is to add the names to your software's dictionary (if they're not already included as a common name), and then to use the AutoCorrect option to correct every other variation of that name, replacing it with the spelling you've chosen for your character. For example, if your character's name is "Cate", you can create entries for "Kate" and "Cait" that are automatically replaced with your choice of "Cate".

If the dictionary does not include a name that you've typed, it will underline the word in red if you have your spell checker turned on. To add the name, right click on it and select "Add to Dictionary".

In Word 2003, the AutoCorrect options are under the Tools menu. Type the incorrect spelling in the "Replace:" box, and the correct form in the "With:" box.

Another more common use for the AutoCorrect tool is for those words that you find you just never spell correctly. If I use a word often and find I misspell it more than three or four times, I add it to my AutoCorrect dictionary. The easiest way to do this is by right-clicking on the red-underlined incorrectly spelt word, select AutoCorrect in the floating menu, and then select the correct word (if available) from the AutoCorrect drop-down menu.

Elsa Neal
Is Word driving you crazy? Then Word 4 Writers is for you. Learn to tame the monster and save your time in front of the screen for writing not fighting. Elsa Neal has been strong-arming Word for 14 years and teaching others to do the same. She is based in Melbourne, Australia.

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  1. Elsa,

    Thanks for this. I didn't know I could add to the auto-correct menu. This is great news!


  2. I'm glad it has helped you Charlotte. :-)

  3. New tip for me as well. I had turned off my Auto Text because it wasn't really helping me. Now I know why. Thanks, Elsa

  4. I could add to the auto-correct menu. This is great news!

    Work from home India

  5. This will work much better than what I did when I discovered I'd changed the spelling of a character name. Then I had to find and replace, and still missed a few really strange spellings. Thanks


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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