Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Radical Writing Advice :Word Pairs - Sharing Time

Last week I sent a tweet into the world about a little run-in I had with Microsoft Word's spell checker. And it got me to thinking: I wonder what other little pet peeves writers have with Word. I know I've heard others grumble about what Word thinks is grammatically correct or not recognizing some words.

And Word certainly doesn't take kindly to creative license. It hates sentence fragments and, at least in my version of word, those get the squiggly red lines, reminiscent of the red pen marks of teachers in elementary school or middle school. Word insists on capitalizing words at the beginning of every line, even if it's poetry and I don't want that word capitalized.

Yet teachers and editors and agents still tend to advise: "Make sure you run spell checker on your document before turning it in - submitting." Like Word and its counterparts have the last word on all things creative.

I have known some people to even turn the spell checker off. I could do that. But once in a while it does catch a typo, an error. It lets more go than it catches, true, but it still has a place. Just don't depend on it to do all of the work for you.

This all started when I was editing a story for submission. (Yes, I did get it edited with feedback from a couple of years ago from my online writing group, and then additional feedback on an edited version from my new in-person writing group. Thank you everyone for your input. The story is in the 'zine's hands now.)

Where the issue came up is that, in the story, the protag is talking and says "...there is a character, who kills..." But Word marked it up and told me it should be "...there is a character, which kills ..."  I thought, No; no way. The character is a person so it should be who and not which. But then I started questioning myself as much as I questioned Word and soon, I found myself being able to justify it either way. I kept it with my original wording.

To be fair, I will say that the character the protag is talking about actually turns out to be a personification of the protag herself. Maybe that makes a difference and maybe not. But I will still stand behind my "character who" decision.

This discussion is not new. This same pair of words came up a couple of years ago in the online writing group. It was a great discussion and some helpful advice in choosing the appropriate word.

So when this situation came up with Word, I started thinking about other possible word pairs that sometimes trip writers up. Or at least make us pause and maybe even pull out our Strunk and White, or The Everyday Writer, or whatever your favorite online or in-print resource may be.

I'd love to hear from you.

What are the words which have (or maybe still do) cause you to doubt or pause the pace to make sure you have the correct usage?

What are a few tricks or hints you have to help make the better choice?

Here are a few which come to mind:
- which & that
- lay & lie
- drink, drank, drunk
- less & fewer.