Since I’ve been in a semi-helpful mood of late, and since someone else looked at me as though I was crazy when I pointed out doing this, I felt like sharing.
Spellcheck your work. Every time. No exceptions.
That’s probably being met with a resounding “duh!” by many of you out there. But for those who write in realms of the fantastic – horror, fantasy, sci-fi and sometimes romance – those squiggly little lines can get positively out of control. Your characters, concepts and places are likely to have names not found in the dictionary, and more than one of you – I am guilty as charged in this department – are all too happy to click “ignore all” and continue pecking away without a second thought.
Don’t. At least not without a quick break to visit the nuts and bolts of your word processor of choice.
Most word processors today have nifty autocorrect options. I use them myself, because in my poor damaged mind, “ie” and “ei” words sometimes get buggered, my fingers don’t always tap the keys I want them to – or I don’t think they did, so I hit them twice – or because I’m zipping through my manuscript and don’t stop to double check a rare word. It’s very nice that Pages will account for that and fix it for me. I also use it to substitute em-dashes in, or for quick shorthand on certain words or internal fictional catchphrases. But autocorrect isn’t really your friend, and when it teams up with your spellcheck to assault your manuscript, even when you’ve told it multiple times to leave a given word alone, it can cause nightmares.
Today alone, for example, I had to correct it at least 40 times while doing a scene for Blood and Steel, featuring a character named “Marelli.” It seemed to think I meant “Marlene.” Maybe “Marla.” Once “marmalade.” Now, later, not a single one of those is going to flag as an issue; why would they? They’re all spelled right. Right? But if Brand is having a chat with Mr. Marelli and Mr. Marmalade stuffs a gun in his beak, well, that’s going to cause some issues. (Which goes back to needing an editor, as I talked about in this episode of My Brother’s Keeper.) And when you click that spellcheck button to go through for the final time, you’re either going to have to hit “Ignore” a bunch so it stops telling you that “Hey, Marelli’s not a word!”
That’s before you get into some really outlandish names. I have deep pity for anyone with characters named Xexyz or something similar, who must venture to the plains of Figgerfurbinburbinmitzermurbin.
And then here’s where it gets really sticky.What if the writer, in a delirious moment, spelled it Figgerburbinfurbinmitzermurbin? Yes, you’ll need to really stare at that to notice it’s a typo. And when Xeyxz gets there, well, his paycheck isn’t going to be cashable, because his name’s wrong, too. Further, let’s assume that, like most writers, he thinks he’s smarter than technology, so while he’s spellchecking and those words come up “again,” he does a quick glance, assumes the software’s freaking out and forgot he already told it to ignore that one, and clicks “ignore” again. And maybe that happens more than once.
Yes, that’s probably an extreme example. But it can happen. At one point in Shadow of Purity, I had four different spellings for Ashriel’s name. I’m still not 100% certain they’ve all been stamped out and forced to conform, and the thought will probably haunt me until I die. Fortunately for my polysyllabic friend there, it’s an easy fix, and one I implore all writers to do. Break out your newspaper and piddle pad, because you’re about to train your word processor.
Before you click spellcheck, hunt around in the Preferences window – or Settings, or Dictionary; it’s different in each program, but if you search “add words to Spellcheck” in your chosen software’s “Help” it should find it for you. Find this lovely little gem:
Click it. Then proceed to add your character names, places, concepts or any other word that is going to be “right” for your manuscript, but “wrong” for most people’s English. And, it probably doesn’t need to be said, but I will anyway: make damn sure you spell it right, here. Or else Vice President Cthulhu will want to talk to you.
Hey, look! All them squigglies went away! And it’s not saying “Hey, that’s misspelled!” or “helpfully” attempting to fix it for you anymore! Unless, of course, it actually is misspelled. Which, hey, you want it to yell at you for. I think.
A lot of modern software will even let you have multiple custom dictionaries, so you can have one for each book or series, so as not to confuse your word processor if you have characters with similar but different names in different works, or so something doesn’t slip past spellcheck because it’s “right” in one book but gibberish in another. Such features also often allow disabling or enabling them on a by-document basis, so you can turn them off when you’re blogging or writing a letter to mum, but back on for your fiction work or when hyping your newest piece. Science!
Hopefully this little tip proves helpful to those of you out there. If you’ve got other unknown or underused suggestions to help with the writing process or want to share your own misadventures with spellcheck, let us know in the box below!