Find and Replace or Seek and Destroy?

One of the great features in Word, is the find and replace option. It has so many wonderful uses. One of my favorites I like to call, seek and destroy.

In my Belated Blogger Birthday post, I mentioned the problem with the "to be" verbs and how they have a tendency to drag your writing into the passive zone.

Note, I did not say they always do.

Let's recap.

Had, Was, Were... To be or not to be, that is the question.
A year later and I am still learning about passive voice in writing. I'm not going to attempt to give advice on that subject specifically, but I will give this handy little tip.

Avoid the "to be" verbs when possible. They have a tendency to make your writing passive and they are so easily overused.

Now, I am not saying never use them, just avoid where possible. Just like all words, they do have their place in writing.

Example 1 (unnecessary had)

I surveyed the café, noticing that two strangers had sat down at one of the card tables along the painted mural wall.

The had here is unnecessary and drags the sentence into the passive zone. Lets reword.

Example 2 (no had)

I surveyed the café, noticing two, strange men sitting at one of the card tables along the painted mural wall.

Example 3 (unnecessary was)

My heart was pounding in my chest.

Sure the heart was pounding, but we could have gotten the same message in a more active sense without the word, was.

Example 4

My heart pounded in my chest.

You will find, in most cases, when you are tempted to use one of the "to be" verbs, you can simply rework the sentence and avoid it.

Now, there are situations where they are perfect to use. Had, for example is a wonderful way to let the readers know the information happened in the past.

Example 5

I couldn't understand why Hector refused my request. He had helped me many times before. What's stopping him now?

Here, had is used just to tell us of a previous situation. It works, as is.


Ok, now that we have recapped a little, let me tell you how, seek and destroy works.

Open up your current WIP. (if you are using WORD) Turn track changes on. (under tools, find track changes and click). Now hit Control and H (at the same time)

This brings up the find and replace window. (make sure your track changes is on before you do this.)

Start with "was". Type that into the top text box. Now, type "was" again into the second box and let it replace all.

All of those pesky Was' will now show up in red. You will probably see a lot of them.

Here is where seek and destroy works.

When self editing, we tend to miss things because we are too close to our work to notice. Track changes works like an editors, Big Red Pen, highlighting the things we need to work on.

Now that you can see the items pointed out in RED, you can go line by line and decide if they are really necessary. If they are ok, leave them be. If not, you can change them.

Rinse and repeat as necessary with any word you wish to seek out and destroy.

One of my critiquers sent me this great list of words to seek and destroy!

When done, switch your view in track changes (in the menu bar, there should be a drop down) from "final show mark up," to "final" and the red will go away, leaving your document looking normal again.

Comments

That's so great, Katie! Thanks! Btw, how do you use the "seek and destroy"? I still don't know how to do that...

Merry Christmas!
quixotic said…
Seek and Destroy is just the name for the process. You are seeking out and destroying the words that must be cut.
Jessica said…
Oh cool! I know ctl f but not H. That sounds awesome! Thanks.
laurel said…
Terrific tip. My WIP is in present tense, so I don't tend to use perfect tenses much (where those slow-down "to be" verbs show up most). Your crit partner's list looks handy for applying this technique, however. Thanks for sharing!
Great tip. Now if I can just remember it once I finish my first draft. :)
Karen’s Blog
Kristi Faith said…
Cool, thanks for giving that tip with Track Changes in Word...I had no idea how to use that. LOL I think that will make a world of difference in my editing process. I usually go through and try to find all of that by myself!! Darn it!
Deb@RGRamblings said…
Thanks for the great tip! I'll check out the link.
Jm Diaz said…
Very true. I've been guilty of the passive voice in the past. Now, I try to keep an eye out for it. Thanks!
Natalie said…
I am so guilty of over-using passive voice. Thanks for the tips and the seek and destroy list!
L.T. Elliot said…
I love find and replace. It's such a USEFUL tool. =]
Another great one! Keep at it!
KM said…
I've sought and destroyed many words in my current WIP. Most of them have been was's, but "that" appears way too many times, too. Those pesky passive verbs haunt me even in my sleep. ;)

Great post! Useful stuff.
Got it, Katie! Thanks! I read your post too fast the first time. This time I printed it out and will post it somewhere. Can't wait to use this!
Cool trick! I didn't know if you wrote the same word in the two places it would turn them all red in the ms. Definitely going to try it out.