Like any craft, the beauty of writing is not just in the creative process, but also in the workmanship and joinery that lie beneath the surface.
Writers, don’t panic. You’re not out of a job. Apple’s next major innovation is not going to be the iTolstoy. Please carry on writing wonderful stories for us to read.
But, while a computer program can’t generate a compelling narrative or sympathetic characters, it might help make a good story even better. Writing is a craft. And like any craft, the beauty of the product is not just dependent on the creative process, but also on the workmanship and joinery that lie beneath the surface. This is where technology can make a difference and help you write a better novel.
1. Fight your addiction to glue words and overly sticky sentences
You know those sentences with 30% more words than necessary? We all write them. Sticky sentences are bogged down in glue words (the 200 or so most common words in English: is, as, the, that, etc). Glue words are the empty spaces in your writing that your readers have to pass through to get to the meaning. Almost all writing can benefit from a reduction in glue words to improve clarity.
• Original: Kate was able to use the information that she had in her files and spoke to a number of people about the problem and managed to resolve it.
Glue Words: 58% – Sentence Length 28 words
• Redraft: Kate resolved the problem using her contacts and the available information.
Glue Words: 36% – Sentence Length 11 words
The redraft saves 17 words in a 28-word sentence. That is going to make a huge difference to your reader. Get rid of the stickiness.
2. Strengthen your vague or abstract words
An editing tool will present you with a list of all the vague and abstract words you have used in your writing and suggest similar words that are stronger or more concrete. Ironically, the very vagueness of abstract words is one of the reasons for their popularity. It is harder to be precise. We often prefer the safer obscurity of the abstract.
Be specific. Occasionally using one of these words (say one a page) won’t ruin your style. However, the more you use these words, the less readable your writing becomes.
3. Adverbs! Need we say more?
The road to hell is paved with adverbs. – Stephen King
Ok, we admit that occasionally adverbs can be useful, sometimes even indispensable. More often, however, writers use them to prop up a weak verb when a strong verb should do the job instead. Strong verbs also create a more nuanced image for your reader: for example, “meanders” instead of “walks slowly”; “raced” instead of “drove quickly”. Editing tools can highlight the dreaded adverbs so that you can get out your thesaurus and find the word that is exactly right.
4. Assess the variety of length in your sentences
As a writer who tends toward the long rambling variety of sentence, this is one of the most useful tools for me. Varying sentence length is an important feature of good writing. Some should be long and flowing; others, short and punchy. Sentence length needs to ebb and flow like the tide.
A good editing tool will map out your writing so you can scan down and pick out the areas where all the sentences are of similar length. They will also calculate your average sentence length and give you a sentence variety score. These are checked against recommended levels and an error is reported if your sentences are too long, too short, or not varied enough.
5. “De-tag your dialogue!” the Editor shouted angrily.
If there is one thing that annoys editors more than anything, it is dialogue tags. The character’s actions or the dialogue itself action should be carrying the emotion. Don’t depend on an adverb to make your reader feel something.
Original: “I’m not going,” John yelled angrily.
Redraft: John thumped his fist on the table. “I’m not going and that’s final.”
In the second example, John’s anger was shown, not told. Editing tools will find your dialogue tags so that you can find a better way to bring emotion to the scene.
6. Re-evaluate your use of the passive voice
Writing in the passive voice isn’t incorrect, but it’s sometimes awkward and annoying to read. Sentences written in the active voice tend to be more clear and engaging. Once these sentences are flagged, it’s easy to re-jig them so that they are more effective.
7. De-clutter your writing by cutting redundant expressions
Every word in your writing should be there for a purpose. Redundant expressions make writing longer, not better. Look at these four examples:
She peered through the hollow tube.
He stepped out on the frozen ice.
She followed her natural instinct.
His writing was peppered with overused clichés.
In all four cases, the second to last word is superfluous. The editing tool (and your human editor) want those unnecessary words gone!
A good editing tool won’t change your voice or tell you what to do. Its job is to flag up potential technical issues so you can reassess whether you have said it in the best way. It also won’t replace a human editor. Instead, it will get your manuscript one step further along so that when your editor starts editing, she can focus on content and style rather than readability.
It’s the writer that creates the unforgettable characters and sends them on their journey to war, love, or redemption. An editing tool just checks to make sure that the tires are fully pumped and the windshield is clear. It’s another great tool in your writing toolbox.
What Editing Software Can Teach You About Your Writing
Humans vs. Robots: When (And Why) You Should Use Editing Tools
Why Do You Need Professional Editing For Your Novel?
What To Expect From Copy Editing
How To Turn A Good Manuscript Into A Great Manuscript
What Kind Of Book Editing Do I Need For My Manuscript?