Machine editing assistance: AutoCrit – review (2)

In my previous post, I mentioned AutoCrit as an editing tool to help authors. I tried it out on several chapters of my next novel, Miranda’s Demons, and here are my thoughts. But first, a little about the novel. A badly damaged alien battle fleet arrives in our solar system and war results, however, a greedy part of humanity sides with the aliens, and could be the cause of the war. The book is about how the aliens’ presence and the war affects a variety of different people on Earth and Mars, both in the ensuing war, and in what happens later. Because the story involves a large number of people in a large number of locations, and is also about the political future of the planet, with no bloating (in my opinion) it comes in at over 310,000 words. What AutoCrit does was outlined in my last post; this post shows some of its strengths and weaknesses.

All went as I intended Pacing and variation. (You may not agree as to whether it is good, but what is there was intended.) While “said”, “asked” and “replied” were by far the greatest number of Dialogue tags, I was a little surprised at the number of infrequently used tags. Part of this is due to my deliberate use of ellipsis. Thus ” . . ” X smiled. The purist will say you cannot smile speech, but what I mean is “X said with a smile”. The purist may object, but the meaning is clear and I am trying to keep the words down, nevertheless, I changed many of them. I also found the odd clanger, e.g. “Harry exploded”. Probably not optimal use of the language! Well done, AutoCrit.

AutoCrit claimed I had too much passive voice, as indicated by the use of too many “have, had, were, was”. The book is written 3rd person past, and I am happy to include past perfect and past progressive, which requires this set respectively. Also, the story is largely focused on protagonists trying to decide what to do next, and analyse what they see and accordingly I use a lot of subjunctives, which means a lot of “were”. AutoCrit does not analyse for subjunctives or conditionals, as far as I could work out. However, yes, I am happy to include the passive voice where the writing is passive. I was also informed I had too much tell. Apparently indicators were “could”, “there”, “know”, “it” and similar words. The use of “know”, as an example, probably arose from the strategy discussions – do you know or are you surmising? However, yes, I do have more tell than some want. I do it mainly to cut down on the number of words, because “tell” can use a fifth of the words required for “show”. The important thing (in my opinion) is to show the important parts of the story, and tell the bits the reader ought to know, but do not need to know the details. At this stage I should add that Tolstoy is one of my favourite authors.

Clichés were interesting. AutoCrit found “brought together” (matter and antimatter), “Black hole” (it was the cosmological object) and “in the red” (That had me puzzled, but it turned out to be “in the rediscovered Double Bay”. Sydney-siders may smile at that one!) As for redundancies, wishing someone “Good luck” was highlighted. The point of this is, AutoCrit finds things, but the onus is on you as to what you do. Do not just accept it.

Of the Word Choice menu I was happy with what it found, except for generic descriptions. Words like “very”, “suddenly”, and I was not aware I used them so much. Back to editing. The repetition was interesting, especially repeating uncommon words. AutoCrit warned I used Eridani too often in one chapter. This is a puzzle because it ignored “Epsilon” (Epsilon Eridani is a star that a protagonist speculated as the origin of the aliens.) “Thirty-four” was overused (that is the number of alien ships.) Some highlighted uncommon words: independent, Tasman (sea), executed, Jane, grams, cocoon, barrier, excluded . . . I think AutoCrit is a bit tough finding unusual words, but I am pleased to see “epsilon” is a common word! (Given the first chapter starts with Harry with a project to study the magnetosphere of Uranus, this section had fun there, finding copious uncommon words.) Nevertheless, repetition will be very valuable for many authors, because it finds “favourite words” – words that are a fall-back when writing lazily.

However, the most useful feature, from my point of view, is the Compare with fiction menu. What this did was to compare with standard fiction. Yes, I had to attack some adverbs but I generally ignored the tell indicators. Why? Because it is what I wanted to write. The adverbs I deleted were lazy ones.

So, overall? It is definitely a useful assistant, but you must not woodenly rely on it. What its strength is it finds mechanically. That means, no personal “softness” that can otherwise creep in. Its memory is also better for what went before. Of course, it says nothing about plot development; that is your problem.

Declaration of interest: I have no financial interest whatsoever in AutoCrit, and I do not know any of the people involved in it.

2 thoughts on “Machine editing assistance: AutoCrit – review (2)

  1. Interesting. I can see such a tool would be useful in quickly picking up on details it would take someone a long time to find. And as you say, it’s objective in what it reports. Then the writer can apply human judgment to the results.

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