Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Searching for More Silly Stuff

Sometimes we’re so focused on the big picture—our plot and characters—that we miss obvious clues that more editing is required. My July 16th, 2009 post, Look for the Silly Stuff: Exclamation Points, discussed the overuse of that popular punctuation mark. Here are a few other things you need to consider.

1. Bad grammar and lousy punctuation. If you don’t know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, you need to take a class, buy a good book and study it, or choose one of many excellent online resources to hone your writing skills. I like Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips™ for Better Writing and her website by the same name. Guide to Grammar and Writing is a website sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation. I’ve found it to be very useful.

2. When Microsoft Word underlines a word in red, it means the software thinks you have misspelled the word. The error might be a typo. The word might really be misspelled. Or you may have used a correct word or spelling that is not in Word’s dictionary.

If you right click on the underlined word, an option box will pop up giving you a few alternate word/spelling choices and the ability to add the word to the dictionary so future uses will not be underlined in red. This is helpful for names of characters or fictional places, creatures, and objects (as in fantasy novels). Always turn to a good dictionary to verify spelling.

3. When Microsoft Word underlines a fragment or sentence in green, it means the software thinks your grammar is incorrect. You need to check it out and revise the sentence if necessary. Right click on the underlined phrase or sentence and an option box will give you a brief description of what might be wrong. If you’ve intentionally used incorrect grammar for emphasis, or in dialogue, you may select “Ignore Once” in the option box to make the green line disappear.

4. Two words, one word, or hyphenated word? This is a trickier problem. Whenever you have a noun that is made up of two words, and you’re not 100% sure whether the noun should be two words, one word, or hyphenated, it’s best to look it up in an official dictionary. Two words that tripped me up were rearview (as in rearview mirror) and backseat. Also remember that your word might be hyphenated if used as an adjective, but not when used as a noun.

Here are a few other examples: ape-man, backstory, bookseller, chain-smoker, deathbed, fishwife, safe-conduct, woodshed, and trashman (Word thought trashman was wrong, but Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary assured me it was correct). For more on this spelling puzzle, see Dani Greer’s posts, This is a test, just a test on April 22, 2009 and Spelling Test Answers on April 23, 2009.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.


  1. Thank you Patricia. Terrific reminders of things we shouldn't overlook in our manuscripts (and yet, are so easy to overlook).

    Straight From Hel

  2. Word often gives me a green underline for a sentence frag and I am left bewidlered since it is usually a perfectly grammatical sentence--subject-predicate and all that. Still, it never hurts to have it question my writing and make me look twice. Thanks, Pat.

  3. Great tips, Patricia. And Shannon, I find that Word highlights things for me, too, that are correct. I figure nobody's perfect, not even a computer program. LOL

  4. You forget the intruding comma -- or does it deserve a post of its own?

    Nice reminder since I'm doing a revision at the moment.

  5. It's true, Word sometimes just doesn't get it! I often add words into the Word dictionary, and frequently use the "Ignore" option for grammar choices. The red and green lines can be very annoying when I know I'm right and Word is wrong. When in doubt, consult reliable guides.

    Hi Kay. Yes, commas do need a lot of attention. As one of my critique group members said this week, some writer tend to take a handful of commas and throw them at the manuscript to see where they land. I'll look through the BRP archives and see if I can point you toward any comma-specific posts.

  6. I meant "some writers..." I have lazy typing fingers today.

  7. It's nice to know about the red line. I thought I was nuts because a computer couldn't be wrong, could it? Great post Patricia, very enlightening.

  8. For some reason, the older I get, the more typos I make in my writing. It's really, really annoying! Thanks for these editing tips.

  9. Thanks for the great links. I'm about to revise a wip I've let sit for some months, so thanks.


  10. The hyphen one is tricky, but I usually figure if the two words together are used as adjectives, most of the time a hyphen goes there.

    Microsoft Word is usually pretty smart, but sometimes I've found words it doesn't know. I try to remember to add them to the dictionary, so I don't go through the problem again. Sometimes I forget and have to look it up again.

    Morgan Mandel


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