Machine editing assistance: AutoCrit – a review.

As my readers should know, I self-publish novels, and one of the major problems all indie writers experience is the problem of polishing the manuscript, alternatively known as editing. Editing is a pain, but it has to be done, either by a professional, or by yourself. Doing it yourself has a bad reputation, but suppose you could get help? I found a computerized “help” called AutoCrit, I tried it out, I sent my comments to Jocelyn Pruemer, who apparently created this, or at least manages it. I was then given a short trial of the full suite, and in return I am offering a review. This will be in at least two parts. This part mainly describes what you get; the second part my experiences on using it.

However, before getting into detail, my overall conclusion can be summarized as: AutoCrit is a very useful tool, but like any tool, it will make a poor master. It has two main functions. The first is to tell you what comprises weak writing, and that is what this post will focus on. It then shows you where in your writing you have included some possible examples. Most usefully of all, there is a pdf “handbook” that goes with it, in which Jocelyn not only explains what should be avoided, but also explains when you should disregard the “rules”. In my opinion, you should never woodenly follow the suggestions, because you will be writing like a machine, and big surprise, your writing will become mechanical. The great advantage of the program is that it analyses your writing and shows you where you should pay attention. A last comment about “rules”: there is nothing wrong with breaking these as long as you know you are doing it, and knowing why you are doing it. An example from music. One of the greatest sins in classical harmony is to put in parallel fifths. Notwithstanding that, I have played a Haydn sonata full of them, and they sound great. Haydn, the master, knew what he was doing. The problem arises with the person who does not know what he is doing, and back to writing, AutoCrit will show you what you have done, and more importantly, it highlights where you did it. In short, it highlights the areas that might need attention, and specific highlights can be turned on and off so you can focus specific attention.

The menu has six main topics, and several sub-topics, and these are:

1. Pacing and momentum. This shows sentence length in sequence, and it highlights slow-pacing writing. A machine can easily count words and graphically represent the count, but the pacing is more interesting. I am unsure how it does this, but it highlights the sections that it thinks are slower paced, and you can quickly scroll through to see whether there is a long allegedly boring bit.

2. Dialogue. This lists the different tags used, and counts the adverbs in dialogue.

3. Strong writing. This counts the number of adverbs, the number of passive voice indicators (although, as I shall argue in the next post, these are debatable), indicators of showing/telling, it identifies clichés, redundancies, and unnecessary filler words. Again, that is debatable, and includes words such as “that” and “then”. However, remember, all it does is identify. You are the master and make the decision as to whether to keep them.

4. Word choice. This includes initial names and pronouns, various weak sentence starters, generic descriptors, homonyms and personal words and phrases. Of these, the generic descriptors, in my opinion, are the hardest to find unless prodded with something like this program.

5. Repetition, such as repeated words, phrases, uncommon words, word frequency and phrase frequency. The latter two are of interest because you may have some words that are quite reasonable to use, but not too frequently.

6. Compare with fiction. This is where you can compare your writing using the above criteria with successfully published fiction. Thus you may find, for example, you are an above average user of adverbs. If you wish, you can then go back, find your adverbs, and decide whether to delete, rewrite or leave.

To summarize, this could be a valuable aide to authors as it gives you the chance to focus on what needs attention. If interested in trying it, go to Next week I shall post some of my experiences with it.