Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Editing: Autocrit vs Grammarly vs Human vs Nothing

Editing is the most important task for a writer after writing the book. It's more important than marketing, social media engagement, book cover design, and nail biting--all activities that most authors spend a great deal of time doing. How many times have you read a forum post where an author asks, "Why is my book not selling? I've had magnetic car signs made, created cards and bookmarks, but yet no sales!" You look at the sample provided on Amazon and observe poor grammar and bad punctuation. Now, what was the question again?

While editing is the most important task, it's often the most expensive, depending on the type of editing you need. Prices for simple copy editing can go from about a dollar a page to a penny a word. However, more in-depth editing to fix plot holes, one-dimensional characters, can cost at least 5 bucks a page. That kind of money takes a big bite out of anyone's purse. Most of us haven't reached superstar status where we hire our own in-house editorial teams. So what do we do? Some authors may ask their retired Aunt Gladys, who taught middle-school English and who loves to read to help out. This is certainly better than nothing at all. However, Aunt Gladys is old. You may not feel comfortable letting her read your steamy romance epistle where people are kissing where the sun doesn't shine and talking about it in the most earthy of language. She may cross out every "ain't" on paper, regardless of whether your character or narrator speaks that way. "You must use proper English, young lady!"

So what's left? Online editing software. There's a host of them out there. Just google and find them. I use Grammarly and Autocrit. In fact, this post is being written with Grammarly's help. (It's insisting that Autocrit should be autocrat) I'm ignoring Gramma um, Grammarly right now. Which one is best? It depends on your weakness. I need them both. Grammarly is good for catching most misspellings, punctuation errors, whether you meant comma or coma, capitalization, and word choice problems, like that comma or coma. But then it sometimes acts like Aunt Gladys without her glasses and misses the obvious.

Autocrit (no Gramma, not autocrat) is very in-depth. I love its repeated word and repeated phrases feature. For some reason, I like to repeat myself. In fact, it will no doubt tell me I've used the words editing, in-depth, comma, and comma. It also hates the passive voice and the author's use of beginning a sentence with too many pronouns or nouns. "Well, how else do I write in my omnipotent all-knowing voice where I see the character doing everything," you might ask. Autocrit will get you to thinking about a better way. However, it won't care much about your spelling or if you put a comma right in the middle of co,ma like I just did. Grammarly didn't seem to notice either. Perhaps she was asleep. 

Another thing editing software won't catch is plot holes. So what if your character has blue eyes in chapter one and brown eyes in chapter three. Neither of them cared. John jumped out of bed screaming on his way to work? Who cares. (Grammarly cared somewhat. It said I was missing an auxiliary verb.) And whatever happened to that gun in chapter one? Grammarly and Autocrat (happy now?) will shrug and have a cup of coffee. Therein lies the weakness of online editing software.

The other weakness is they just don't get the tone of your writing and will try and correct too much. Sometimes tone is set by repetition, a narrator's poor grammar, and a host of other devices. I threw an award-winning story, (my own) into Autocrit's machinery to see what it might suggest. It went nuts over the fact, I had too many repetitive words and way too many pronouns beginning a sentence. This story, Cheeseburger won an award in 1987 (ancient times) I know. Joyce Carol Oates was the guest judge and she selected it for publication in The Ontario Review, Edited by her husband and I'm sure a staff of other human Editors. And yes I made the editing changes, they suggested, including changing my name to CW Harvey because the protagonist's voice was a teenage girl and the fact I was a guy might confuse readers. Like I said, 1987 was ancient times. 

The takeaway from all of this? Edit very carefully whether you use a human or a computer. Go with your gut feeling, if you don't like a particular suggestion. Don't close your eyes and rely on the software to work magic. It's very imperfect, yet better than nothing. If you have nothing, read and study good books in your genre. Read good books on writing and grammar. Look up books on craft by Janet Burroway and Donald Maass. There are many online grammar resources. Use the comments section to suggest some of your own. 

Note: Autocrit provides a host of useful stats about your writing. So far its found two instances where the pacing might be slow. It was ok with sentence length variation, but not paragraph length. It was happy not to find dialog tags and adverbs in the dialog. It didn't mind a couple of adverbs in the narrative. Autocrit found too many instances (16) of showing vs telling. It suggested I remove one. Overall I did fine. Aunt Gladys is upset because I didn't use her picture.


#writer #amwriting #editing

1 comment:

  1. I agree entirely and still haven't made up my mind which I like best .