I’m not a huge consumer of writer’s tech tools. I’ve poked at Scrivener and other things. I swore by ScriptThing when I was screen and playwriting. But for prose and poetry, Word for Windows is all I need. So I thought, anyway.
To me, writing has always been story telling. I probably spend about 75% of my effort while writing on trying to figure out the story. When I was a screenwriter this was perfect. Screenplay expression is pretty simple; it’s the plotting and the pacing and the characterization that are important. The words and how they go on the page is a small part of it.
Not so with writing fiction (or blogs for that matter). And beautiful smooth prose does not come naturally to me. I struggle with sentence variety and re-using the same dull words over and over. So when Sherrie Petersen blogged about the AutoCrit Editing Wizard, I just had to try it.
The website generously lets you use the wizard for up to 500 words at a time for free. This is a great free resource for bloggers or school age writers, and I will certainly be recommending for this. I played with the free wizard for about thirty minutes before I decided I must have the fully functional version.
This is a web based app, and you purchase a level of annual membership to suit your needs. I chose the professional level because I plan on completing and or revising at least three full length manuscripts in the next twelve months. I also wanted the options only included in this level.
First of all, purchasing and customer service have been exemplary. I emailed the contact email late last night (full disclosure, I was asking for a discount since I was planning to review it. They gave me 25% off) and they replied early this morning. With my discount code, I hopped back to the site, filled in the form, typed in my credit card and boom, five minutes later I was using the professional level version.
I dumped in 97,000 words. First discovery: with documents of more than 15,000 words you can only get one report at a time. I was mostly interested in “Overused words” , “repeated phrases” and “sentence length” anyway, so I didn’t mind looking at the reports one by one. Second discovery: the wizard breaks each chapter into a “section” and analyses them one by one. I was a little disappointed at first, but then I realized that since this particular WIP is written in alternating points of view this was interesting to see how the voices of these two very different characters contrasted.
Well, I found that I suck. I wasn’t very surprised. It seems I have way too many overused words and too much repetition. My sentence length variety seems to be okay, so that’s good. Like Sherrie, I found the cutesy encouragement “nice work” or “good job” to be a bit patronizing. But that’s easy enough to ignore.
It’s very easy also, to move through the various reports and it does allow a combination report of the whole document, which includes “overused words”, “repeated phrases” and “repeated words”. As I moved through the different reports I discovered I’m pretty good at avoiding clichés, although it did flag some phrases that can be but were not used as clichés in this instance. For example in the sentence “He’s sitting on the edge of one of the beds, looking out the window at the lake”, the phrase “on the edge” was flagged, as though I was saying “he’s on the edge of suicide” or “that’s guy is really on the edge today”. So that’s something to keep in mind when reviewing your reports.
The phrases summary is an excellent report. I, like many writers, have a few old standby phrases that I use way too much, and this report easily caught them, section by section. However for this report especially I would have like to have the analysis done for the whole manuscript.
Only one report, “Pacing” purports to analyze anything other than expression. I glad about this because I don’t think a bot can truly analyze the plot, premise or characters of a manuscript. So the pacing report itself I find suspect. This is what AutoCrit says about it:
Pacing Report: Interpreting Your Results
The Pacing Report identifies the slower paced parts of your manuscript, such as introspection and backstory (some descriptive passages are caught, too).
Slow paced paragraphs are highlighted in light green. Active sections, such as dialogue and character action, are not highlighted.
Good writing includes both faster paced and slower paced sections, so your story should contain both highlighted and not-highlighted sections of text.
However, introspection and backstory are better ‘sprinkled’ than ‘dumped’. Be careful if you have many paragraphs or pages of highlighted text.
Uh…I don’t believe it. In my pacing report it just seemed like random phrases and paragraphs were highlighted. Maybe I should take a closer look before I completely dismiss this but I’m skeptical. On a positive note, the report seemed to think my pacing was fine. Note that when I ran this post through the Pacing Report, the first paragraph and the bolded one above were highlighted, whatever that means.
I have two criticisms of AutoCrit Professional. It offers the option of emailing any report to yourself. This is very useful, however the report comes to you as a web page. Nothing wrong with this but if you were to want to use it (the report includes the entirety of your text with words and phrases highlighted) as the basis of a new draft, cutting and pasting it across to your word processor creates all kind of formatting problems. What I did instead was open the webpage report on another screen and then applied the edits to my working document by hand. This worked pretty well because I was able to tweak my own discoveries while keeping an I on the original. But not everyone has two screens to use. I would like to see the highlighted document returned as a word document with comments.
My second criticism concerns the “Dialog Tag” report. The wizard doesn’t seem to recognize most of the dialog tags in my manuscript. Perhaps this is because I am writing in present tense? It recognized the few “he said” and “she said” but none of the “he says” or “she says”. This is a pretty fundamental oversight that I hope the programmers will attend to, especially for those of us writing YA.
I think it might be helpful to have a report for passive voice and one for using present continuous “ing” verb forms. I’d also prefer the adverb report to be separate from the overused word report.
I used the wizard for an hour this morning, and I’m pretty excited about it. One thing I tried on my overly long manuscript is applying the results of the report on three pages. I found I was able to address most of the issues and trim 171 words! At this rate, these edits applied to the rest of the manuscript will allow to shave more than 10,000 words away. Woohoo!
Overall I’m pretty pleased with this application. I’m going to use it with my WIP and another full manuscript that needs revision. I’m also happy to recommend it to other writers and students. Go ahead and try the free wizard and tell me what you think!