It’s pretty safe to say I released my first book too early, and it took a few substantial edits after release to get it into shape. With my next book now finished (a noir-inspired urban fantasy romp I’ll announce soon!), I’ve hopefully learned from the experience and am trying to do things better this time around
How am I achieving this? Read on to find out!
I love a good workflow, so here’s my current editing one. I use Scrivener for the first and second draft, and once I’ve got to the second draft I switch to Microsoft Word for the next stages.
I tend to edit as I go along, to take a break between finishing one chapter and starting the next, so by the time I’ve got to the end it’s pretty much a second draft. By that time the plot is sorted, the structure is there, and most glaring errors and plot holes have hopefully been addressed. There’s still much work to be done, though!
The next stage is AutoCrit and Grammarly (which I’ll talk about another day), before the whole thing gets sent off and ripped to pieces by a human.
Why use editing software?
Ask ten different writers about editing software, and you’ll probably get a range of answers from ‘I couldn’t live without them!’ to ‘They are worthless’, and everything in between. Personally, I think they are a tool like anything else — valuable if used correctly but not something to slavishly follow without human oversight.
One of the main problems with self-editing is that word-blindness quickly sets in and it’s easy to miss things, or not challenge yourself for better ways to write a scene. Editing software doesn’t care about your feelings, and a fresh pair of eyes is always good, even if it is an algorithm.
It still begs the question, though, why bother if you’re then going to pay a professional editor to look at it anyway? To answer that, ask yourself this question: Would you rather your editor spent the time on the higher level themes and subtleties of your prose, or digging around in the mud with basic stuff you probably could have fixed yourself beforehand?
An adventure with AutoCrit
AutoCrit is a web-based software package that compares your writing to thousands of existing titles and gives scores and advice on what areas you should focus on. In addition to graphical summaries, it drills right down to the text and highlights potential issues.
The following examples are not a comprehensive list of the things that AutoCrit does, but it should give you a flavour. For this exercise, I’ve focused on Chapter 2 where Jack, our hero, gets interrupted by some unwelcome visitors. From the second draft, I was pretty pleased with it. Let’s see what AutoCrit thought from the fingerprint summary. The overall score, out of 100, represents the percentage of highlighted text (issues found) vs non-highlighted (no issues). The bigger the score, the fewer problems detected. Issues are further split up by into the five main sections, by percentage of the total. In this example, 54% of problems found are in the ‘strong writing’ section.
78 isn’t a terrible score, but I’m sure I could do a lot better than that! So, what problems were found?
Paragraphs and sentences
It’s good to vary the length of your text, otherwise it can seem a bit boring. A couple of slow paragraphs were spotted, but nothing major.
Because everyone hates adverbs! (for some reason). No major problems there in either text or dialogue (data not shown), and I’m firmly in the ‘good’ end of the dial.
Passive voice indicators
Now we start hitting a few snags. I seem to really like the word ‘was’!
Yep, and here are a couple of offenders!
Let’s take them out and put in something else. Hopefully, this reads a bit less ‘was-y’. I also took out an ‘it’ at the end, which is apparently something else I do too much of…
After a few more edits, including reducing my was obsession down from 32 to 11, I got my passive voice down to average. I can live with that.
Show vs tell
Next up, do I feel my breath condensing in the air while I shiver some life back into my numbing feet, or is it cold?
Apparently the latter! Far too many ‘it’s and ‘see’s. There is the proviso in this chapter that a lot of it contains someone recalling events in dialogue, and people in general don’t flower up their language in conversation. After another round of edits we’ve reduced those down a bit.
All filler, no thriller
Filler words can interrupt the flow of the narrative and often serve no purpose. ‘That’ and ‘just’ are my two worst offenders, apparently, so let’s get rid of a few of those and replace them with something better.
Getting rid of ten ‘thats’ and a few other things pushes us up to average.
Putting it all together.
Making the changes above and many more from sections I didn’t have room to go into, how does that affect the final score?
Much better! Now, hopefully, when it gets to my editor, he won’t be clawing his eyes out at the dreadful horror that seeps off the page. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other things that need correcting and focusing on instead.
What Autocrit doesn’t do
What Autocrit won’t do is tackle your plot, narrative structure or characterisation, but then it’s not really designed to. For those, beta readers and human feedback are still invaluable. Neither is it a spell and grammar checker, which require different tools.
It’s a tool for the nuts and bolts of writing, and whether you find that appealing may depend on where you are in your experience level. Seasoned pros may find it of limited value, but for a relative beginner like me, it can be extremely useful.
Show me the money!
Autocrit runs on a subscription model, which is currently $29.97 per month with no minimum contract length, so if you only need it for a short while you won’t get stuck for a year. There’s also a free section on the website that will analyse your text but requires an email address. I’d recommend signing up to their mailing list, as they occasionally send through offers with good discounts. If you’re sitting on the fence because of the cost, it’s well worth keeping an eye on (as I did!).