There are lots of tools you can use to write a novel on nowadays. I’ve heard great things about Scrivener, although I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, and other tools have popped up on my radar. I’m a traditionalist, though, and tend to stick with Word.
Now, I have a funny relationship with Word…
That said, I can’t deny that Word is an incredibly useful tool for writing a novel and I’ve definitely picked up a few tips and tricks on my writing and editing journey. Here are five features that can help you with your next WIP.
1. Personal dictionary
If you’re writing fantasy or doing any kind of extensive world-building, this is very helpful. Nothing's more annoying than seeing your WIP peppered with red lines because Word doesn’t know that you’re a creative genius who can come up with names beyond its recognition.
Adding your characters’ names or city names to the Dictionary will eliminate the redlines, but it will also highlight when you accidentally misspell one of them. If you have a character with an unusual name, it can be easy to miss when you’ve spelt it wrong, especially when Word thinks it’s always wrong!
It’s far easier to link to this page on Office’s support website than it is for me to explain it here. It’s incredibly simple to do though.
2. Navigation pane
I use dual-PoV in one of my WIPs and I struggled to see how well dispersed each PoV was. Did Felicity have lots of chapters clumped together? Was Wolfe getting enough time to tell his side of things? I couldn’t see all of this at ground level. Enter the navigation pane.
By setting my chapter titles to Heading 2 and the corresponding character’s name to Heading 3, I was able to see how often the PoVs alternated. What’s more, when it comes to editing, you can pick right back up where you left off by clicking on the right chapter and whizzing straight to it.
On Mac: Click View > Sidebar > Navigation.
On PC: Click View > Navigation Pane.
3. Custom autocorrect
As you probably already know, Word has an autocorrect feature that picks up on common misspellings. But did you know that you can set up your own autocorrect options and use them to fix words you commonly misspell, or for setting up shortcuts for long phrases or names?
Let’s say you have a group in your book called The Flaming Archers of Wetmore Bay (I absolutely want to create a group of ragtag fighters called this now). That can be a long one to type out every time, but you don’t want to shorten it either. If you go into Word’s autocorrect feature, you can set it up so that whenever you type ‘the fawb' it autocorrects to ‘The Flaming Archers of Wetmore Bay’.
On Mac: Click Word > Preferences… > AutoCorrect > then fill out the ‘Replace’ and ‘With’ boxes.
On PC: Click File > Options > Word Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options > then fill out the ‘Replace’ and ‘With’ boxes.
If you’re anything like me, sometimes your ideas come faster than your fingers can type. You have the perfect idea for a scene and you’re desperate to get it all written down before you inevitably forget some crucial detail.
I’ve been trialling Word’s Dictation tool and…it’s pretty decent. It can be a little slow and it doesn’t punctuate unless you tell it to, but it’ll get down what you’ve said. Or a close enough approximation anyway. And, to be honest, I often type the wrong word in a flurry so I can’t mark this tool down for the doing same thing.
I’d say it’s more ideal for stream-of-conscious note taking than actual writing, but it’s worth a try.
On Mac: Tap the ‘fn’ button twice, then start talking.
On PC: Tap the Windows logo + H, then start talking.
Here’s a list of commands you can give to help the dictation tool understand when to add symbols or a space.
One of the single greatest pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given is this: read your work aloud. Seriously, if you’re not already doing this then you are doing yourself – and your story – a massive disservice. The best way to catch sentences that don’t run smoothly or word choices that aren’t ideal or errors the human eye skips over, is by hearing your work aloud.
You can read the story yourself, or you can let Word’s text-to-speech feature do the work. It’s a little more robotic than natural human speech, but it does have good use of intonation and pauses.
On Mac: Highlight the text you want read aloud and press Option + Esc.
On PC: Add the Speak command to your Quick Access Toolbar (steps for that here), then highlight the text you want to hear and click the Speak icon.