Sunday, 19 June 2016

Revision Purgatory & Electronic Editors by Chris Longmuir

I have just met the electronic version of Miss Whiplash, the editor from Hell. I’m talking about Autocrit which is described on their website as manuscript editing software for fiction writers.

As you probably know I’m a sucker for software. I got seduced by Scrivener about a year ago and now swear by it as an organisational tool to whip your first draft into shape. The other software I’ve succumbed to is Dragon. I have the professional version and it’s superb. I’ve also added lots of other software bits and pieces to my long-suffering computer, but the programmes I’ve mentioned are the ones that stand head and shoulders above the rest. And if I run this through Autocrit it will smack my fingers for using such a blatant cliche.

Now, there is no writing software on the market that will write your book for you, or if there is I haven’t found it yet. But what software will do is provide tools to either organise your manuscript into some kind of sensible order, or to highlight areas requiring improvement, and then you have to do the work.

So, what do I like about Autocrit, apart from the fact it’s an electronic bully? Well, it points out the weaknesses in your writing, tells you where you’re telling rather than showing, whether you’re using too many dialogue tags, or adverbs, and highlights repetition. It also highlights areas of passive writing, has sections on pacing, sentence and paragraph length, and it can tell you how your writing measures up to published fiction.

Do you know how many times you use the words had, have, was and were in your writing? Well Autocrit will tell you. It will give you a pat on the back if you don’t have to change any, or tell you to get rid of a specific number of them, and that’s where the hard work comes in. It’s working through the suggestions to remove words to improve the writing and figuring out different ways of writing the offending sentences without bringing in any of the other words you are prone to use too much of.

I must say that the first time I imported a couple of chapters, approximately 4,000 words, through Autocrit I was horrified at how many times I used the words had, have, was, and were. On the other hand, Autocrit tells me I’m ‘awesome’ because I never have adverbs in my dialogue. And my dialogue tags are OK as well, I rarely have to remove any of them except maybe on the odd occasion it tells me to get rid of two.

Note the overused words have gone and what is left are repetitions I wanted keep eg characters' names etc

The good thing for me is that it has made me take a long, hard look at my writing, and by following the suggestions I’m sure it has tightened my writing a lot. The negative side, of course, is that it’s damned hard work. But if it improves my writing it will be worth it. It won’t take the place of a real flesh and blood editor, of course, but the manuscript I submit will be tighter and cleaner. Oh, and did you hear me say ouch when I got a smack on the wrist from Autocrit for another cliche?

If you don’t want to be confronted with your writing bad habits, then Autocrit is not for you. However, if you are of a mind to tighten your writing, then it’s worth a try.

And as the last word, I ran this post through Autocrit and here are some of the results:
Passive voice – it wants me to remove or change between 6 to 10 words.
Cliches – it highlighted 8.
Redundancies – none found (top marks for this one)
Unnecessary filler words – it only found one that needed to be removed ‘then’ (it’s in the last sentence of paragraph 3 if you want to look and see if Autocrit is right).
Showing vs Telling – it wants me to remove between 10 to 12 words. But then, this post is all about telling you something so I’ll ignore that.

Blog Results
There is a select and deselect word option if you want to check individual words

Tick the word to select to see how often it is repeated and how close they are to each other
So now it's your turn. Have a try of Autocrit and let me know how you get on with it.

Chris Longmuir

Link for Autocrit:

Apple iBooks


Jan Needle said...

Speaking as an ex tabloid sub, how about this? (Sorry - I'm at a loose end in the peeing rain in the charmless cold of a South of France summer!)

There is no software that will write your book for you, but it can provide tools to organise your manuscript into sensible order, or highlight areas requiring improvement.

Chris Longmuir said...

Your second paragraph is exactly what I said in my post, Jan, so I can't argue with it.

Jan Needle said...

My fingers are so cold now i'll cut ANYTHING! Bloody holidays....

Bill Kirton said...

Chris, that 'then' suggestion is a dodgy one for me. Without it the sentence has a meaning other than the one you intended. However, you know my predilection for displacement activities and it's very tempting.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Have to declare up front that I would never be persuaded to use this kind of software in a month of Sundays, so maybe I shouldn't be commenting at all - but still a very interesting post, Chris! Sometimes telling is as necessary as showing. Sometimes cliches do exactly what you want them to do. I don't care how often I've used necessary words like had, have, was and were. I already know my own stylistic quirks like using 'little' too often, or characters 'shrugging' too much, but Word will find those for me if I haven't already spotted them. My objections are encapsulated by that single example from this (excellent!) post of 'then'. It isn't unnecessary at all. Without it the ending of the paragraph doesn't quite make sense - there's an idea of sequence that disappears if you remove the word 'then' - and the entire rhythm of the sentence becomes unbalanced. And what's wrong with adverbs in dialogue where they're needed? So yah book sucks to Autocrit!

Reb MacRath said...

I find the concept appalling. I'm with Catherine here, with a bit more bellicose.

Reb MacRath said...

Whoops, Autocritter would insist that I use bellicosity.

Nick Green said...

I'm with Catherine and Reb. Burn so-called writing software. Burn it now! For heaven's sake, art is about a human being using their own skills to create something. If a machine is telling you what is good and bad, then what is the point?

Nick Green said...

Another problem with apps like this one is that you can tell within a few minutes that the 'experts' used to compile their rules were probably not as good writers as the person now using it.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Just for fun (wet Sunday afternoon) I put the first page of one of my edited and published novels through it. In a way, it was a cheat, since I was intentionally mimicking the way a nineteenth century writer might have phrased something. But the 'faults' it highlighted were not particularly archaic. It labelled 'keep a secret', 'in the same breath' and 'in due course' as cliches, but they're not. They're just common phrases. What on earth would they suggest in place of 'keep a secret'. Also, whoever designed the software doesn't know the difference between a passive construction and one of the various past tenses of a verb.'They have forgotten' which it tells me is 'passive' - isn't. Like Nick, I think the person using it is probably a whole lot better than the designer. I'm 100% certain Chris is, anyway!

Chris Longmuir said...

Well, it's like everything else you have to use your common sense.

Lee said...

Chris, the very best writers don't use 'common' sense. It's what makes them best, and not common.


Nick Green said...

I wonder if there is an 'AutoArtCrit' and how it would react to various painters:

Monet: Should've gone to Specsavers.

Turner: You need actual objects as well as light, you know!

Rothko: Only got as far as the background.

Van Gogh: Your stars don't look anything like stars, and you'll be lucky to sell more than one painting in your life.

Picasso: Back of the class, Pablo.

Michaelangelo: Good, have an A minus. But Adam probably wasn't quite that muscular. Or white.

There's just so much more to art than rules, isn't there?

Katherine Roberts said...

Monet... obviously got his first pair of varifocals?

But I'm fascinated by the editing software. Some of the students I worked with during my RLF year were Scrivener converts, so maybe this kind of software might help someone who is not a natural writer with their essays? I tend to agree with the others, though, fiction is something else and good fiction seems to require some breaking of the rules.

Chris Longmuir said...

I think I'll go and hide in the corner now! Can I help it if I'm a technogeek and fascinated enough with the various bits of software to share it with you? And perhaps you're forgetting that the creative part of the process is finished when you commence revision and editing which uses the opposite side of the brain. And as far as common sense is concerned, it is required when dealing with anything electronic, but that does not negate the creative part of the process. Off to my corner now!

Enid Richemont said...

Would love to use this on politicians' answers to questions.