Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pilcrow No-No's, Part II

When last we left off, I was rather pathetically attempting to explain the mysteries of the Pilcrow (the infamous reverse P, seen here:  ¶), and, more importantly, why being able to see it with ease matters.  A picture being worth a thousand words, let’s start with this:

A Plain Word file--looks perfectly normal, right?

Now, as you look at it, you’ll see that it looks perfectly normal; nothing out of the ordinary.  If Blogger will allow me to upload this in a large enough size, (It doesn't; for full-size and readable images, please see this link:  http://screencast.com/t/Hw46kxs40Npe)  the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that something is a bit off—all the words at the beginning of each line appear to be either grammatically incorrect, or misspelled, according to Word’s built-in checker—they’re all underlined in squiggly green.
But what Word is really telling you is that the words aren't “misspelled,” per se; the problem is that they are not capitalized.  Why would Word think that they require capitalization, though?  Most of these are, to our eyes, in the midst of a sentence.  But to Word’s “eyes,” they are not in the middle of a sentence—they’re at the beginning of a new paragraph.
To see what I (and Word) mean, I’ll turn on the Pilcrow (click on the backwards P on the Word toolbar or Ribbon in the Home tab for Word 2007 and 2010) and show you what this really looks like—and what’s really encoded:

Aha!  The Culprits appear!

And that’s what Word sees—a page full of one-line-long paragraphs.  (Again, for a full-size image, please see this link:  http://screencast.com/t/IPUxVZmv) No wonder it thinks that all those words at the beginning of each line need capitalization!  More importantly, if you tried to reformat this manuscript—even just to type in it, what you would get would be one line that would word-wrap properly (so you’d see the teeny-weeny “dot” at the end of each line, floating directly after the last word in that line), but the rest of the sentence would end prematurely on the next line, without the wrapping carrying throughout the document, as you are accustomed to Word doing.  (In Ye Olden Times, when Dinosaurs Walked the Earth, “repagination.”).
To try to search and replace all these pilcrows is not a task for the faint of heart.  There are over 8,000 errant paragraph marks in the (from scan & OCR) document I used for this demonstration.  Having to go through your ms and search-and-replace those one at a time would be a time-consuming task, and while there are faster methods for folks with some training in html, it’s not that easy to do; after all, you can’t just tell Word to search and replace the paragraph mark with a space—or all your paragraphs will disappear, leaving you with a single, very, very long paragraph in your story.  You can’t simply tell it to search for paragraph marks surrounded by letters, either; for some of those are “real” paragraphs, as well.  However, through the simple expedient of turning on your Pilcrow, and scanning the right-hand edge of your document, you’ll at least be able to spot and identify any stragglers quickly and easily.
Hope this helped!

This post contributed by Kimberly A. Hitchens ("Hitch"), Owner and founder of Booknook.biz, one of the premiere Indy eBook production companies in North America.  


  1. Helpful post! Having worked in the publishing industry and done lots of layout, I'm painfully familiar with "hard returns" in the middle of sentences! Pilcrows are a pain. I'll definitely search my next novel file with the formatting turned on before sending it to you.

  2. I'm suddenly feeling "justified", to use a term loosely. I haven't checked my current manuscript, but it appears my pilcrows are mostly in order—at least in an older one I looked at just now.

    Feeling like the teacher's pet here . . .

  3. Roger on the pilcrows here as well...just checked the manuscript for my upcoming novel; all appear to be in their proper places. Good to go.


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