Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


November 22, 2010

The art of the sentence

During the Memory Festival that took place last week at the Roundhouse in Yaletown, I attended a workshop taught by Stephen Osborne, columnist and publisher of Geist Magazine, on “The Art of the Sentence,” because I thought if I could get better at creating and understanding this essential building block it would make me a better writer and editor.

We discussed a number of common sentence faults, which was certainly useful, but the most interesting ideas in the workshop, for me, were:
  1. Long sentences—really long sentences—can be good. For example:
    “When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever heard sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again.” —Joan Didion, Goodbye to All That
    We were all taught in elementary school that “a sentence is a complete thought,” and after many years, apparently that’s a lesson worth revisiting. The sentence should keep going until you’ve completed the thought.
  2. The 5-W sentence as the foundation of narrative. The “5-W” sentence contains who, what, when, where, and why. He recommended that you use one of these sentences to begin the story and then whenever the story makes a turn, or when you’re getting stuck and don’t know where to go next. The Geist writer’s toolbox explains that they reject a lot of stories because they contain too much description and not enough story, and I think the 5-W sentence is a way to force you to write narrative instead of description.
  3. He also emphasized writing to satisfy your ear, and that you should read your work aloud to test it.
For more on these and other writing techniques, see the excellent Writer’s Toolbox put out by Geist magazine.

November 10, 2010

Wildcards in MS Word

If you use the Word find and replace feature, it won’t take long before you start to wish for a more powerful way of searching. Using wildcards allows you to do much more flexible and powerful searches, but you need to know the syntax.

For example, I was just editing a manuscript where I wanted to remove the leading zeros from dates and times, such as “September 02, 02:30 p.m.” I began by doing a search for
meaning a zero followed by a digit from 1 to 9. To do an automated replace, I changed the search string to
and put
in the replace field, to indicate that I wanted to replace the search string with the first section of the search string in parentheses. This worked on the first date, but then mistakenly found the zeros in “9:03” and “105.” So I added a test to make sure that my zero is not (indicated by “!”) preceded by a colon or a digit. I also put the text before and after the zero in parentheses so that I could replace the search string with everything except the zero. The final search string:
And the final replace string:

Track changes and find and replace

Find and replace doesn’t behave correctly sometimes when track changes is on. (Some of the characters in the replace string end up in the wrong order.) If I am tracking changes, I will turn off the feature while I do the find and replace, and put a comment on the first piece of changed text explaining what I changed and that it has been done throughout the document.

Some references