Every time I think Pat Haggerty can’t out-do his last post on RU, he comes up with another amazing article. Ever heard of AutoCrit? Check out what this software can do for you and your writing!
Have you ever heard the term Meatware? Yea, well that’s you. In a computer based system the hardware is where the computer software runs, the software is the set of instructions telling the hardware what to do and how, and you’re the meatware, running the show. At least for now 🙂
One never ending problem for writers is self-editing. It never ceases to amaze how many times I can read the same piece of work only to allow any number of mistakes to slip right past my notice. With training, and there are good books and classes on self-editing, you will improve, but some things are just hard to catch. We can, and eventually should, turn to a professional proofreader and/or line editor but wouldn’t it be nice if we could get a little more out of our self-editing cycle?
AutoCrit is a web based, automated proofreader which does an excellent job helping you spot common problems in your drafts. The AutoCrit website says it well: “How do you get unbiased, knowledgeable feedback on your early drafts quickly, easily, and without spending a ton of money on an editor?” AutoCrit, that’s how.
Let’s start with the bad news. AutoCrit is not free. It works on a subscription and while it’s not a lot of money, you will have to pay to play. They have a trial evaluation on the homepage and it will send you your reports so if you care to, start with that:
If you’d like some testimonials (besides mine, and no I’m not making any money off this post), then please check out their testimonials page:
At the time of my writing this post, the cost of AutoCrit was somewhere between $5 and $12 a month. To see differences between the packages, please see their pricing page:
I have the professional version so that’s what I’m going to be talking about today. Just so you know, a writers group I belong to approached AutoCrit about bulk pricing and the AutoCrit people were more than happy to accommodate us. 🙂
Loading your work into AutoCrit
Once you have your account established, head over to the AutoCrit homepage and log in using the Login button in the upper right corner. The editor home window will come up:
The interface is broken into three lines of navigational and functional links at the top, a main editor window topped with its own menu bar bottom left, and an information sidebar bottom right.
If this is your first time using AutoCrit then I’d like to make a suggestion. Click on the Settings menu and set the radio button next to, “Do you want to be reminded about saving your work when navigating away from a page?” to Yes. It’s a bit obnoxious to have AutoCrit ask you before you leave the editor every time but I find the nag worth the trouble. I really hate to lose my writing. 🙂
Before you load any work into AutoCrit make sure you’ve given it a good self-editing once over. AutoCrit relies on your use of proper grammar and punctuation, and it may make invalided suggestions if your work has a lot of grammatical errors. Tidy things up and then decide what part of your work you’d like to run through AutoCrit first. Some AutoCrit account types limit the max word count on a single reporting session. In the enterprise version there is not limit.
Loading your writing into AutoCrit can be accomplished through copy paste, or you can upload a text or Word document. If you’re a Scrivener user like me, do the copy paste or compile out a complete document and use that. For today’s example, I’m going to go with simple copy paste.
If copying from Word, do the copy, switch to the browser and in the menu at the top of the AutoCrit editor window, click Paste from Word.
Paste your work into the resultant dialog and press Submit.
Now that we have some text to play with, let’s start running reports. AutoCrit offers seven main reporting categories, accessible through the tabs at the top of the interface. Each category is then subdivided into a number of individual (and sometimes combined) reports.
Pacing & Momentum
Have you ever had a beta reader tell you that you had too many sentences built using the same structure? Or paragraphs? How about pacing, have you ever felt like your story was moving too slowly? Pacing & Momentum to the rescue. The reports are broken down into:
- Sentence Variation: Checks the length of each sentence, then summarize length ranges to help you spot trends leaning towards sentences of one length range or another.
- Pacing: Spots sentences that appear to have very little action in them, then highlights anything needing checking.
- Paragraph Variation: Same as the one for sentences, only for paragraphs 🙂
- Chapter Variation: Yea, you guessed it
My favorites in this category are Sentence Variation and Pacing. In Pacing you get a list of paragraphs to check which might be slowing your story down. In Sentence Variation you get a per paragraph word count as well as a bar graph displaying the frequency of different sentence ranges. As an example, let’s take a look at Sentence Variation:
Notice in the right hand pane the Email and Print buttons. You can easily email or print (save as PDF?) a copy of the report to peruse at your leisure. Right under that, this and all reports have a How do I interpret this analysis? link. If you’d like help on the report’s contents and suggestions on what to do about various issues, click there.
Sentence Variation then displays sentence frequency by word length. So I have 124 sentences shorter than 10 words. If you click on one of the bars, AutoCrit will highlight sentences in that length range, as I’ve done here. In my screenshot you can see two of the 124 sentences with a word count under ten words. Below that, you can also click on individual sentences if you’d like to find them. That might be handy for spotting individual, super long sentences or something.
Yup you got it, Dialog examines your work’s dialog for the over use of Adverbs, the road to hell according to Stephen King is paved with adverbs, and it also scans for an abuse of Dialogue Tags. The abuse of dialog tags is an interesting one. It can really help spot issues with unneeded tags and the abuse of unusual tags, which tend to stand out unnecessarily (as opposed to “he said” and “she said” which tend to disappear from your readers notice). Obviously, the advice on tags, like all the advice provided by AutoCrit, is subjective, and a good writer will occasionally break just about all of the rules. Still, the AutoCrit advice can be very helpful. It also allows the restriction of the advice to a particular genre.
Notice here how it spots the two times that characters were yelling. I can now decide if I like both, or if I should perhaps take the advice and remove one.
By this point you should be able to pick up some of the common elements in how the AutoCrit interface works, so I’m going to display and summarize the other tabs without providing an example of each. The overall steps behind any single tab is always similar.
- Adverbs: Same as the dialog adverbs but for the entire work.
- Passive Voice: Not perfect, but it will spot places where you’re using passive as opposed to active voice.
- Showing vs. Telling: Have big lumps of backstory etc.? This can help you find and eliminate those areas.
- Clichés: Checks your story against an extensive list of clichés. It then points out each instance so you can decide if you want to leave or fix them.
- Redundancies: Ever fall into the trap of using the same word or phrase too many times? Yup, this will spot which words/phrases and then highlight them in the story.
- Unnecessary Filler Words: that, then, just, etc. This report will find the instances.
- Initial Pronoun and Names: How much do you rely on pronouns (he, she, it) or character names for sentence starters? Do you abuse it?
- Sentence Starters: Overuse a starting word? I see in the demo text they have 42 sentences which start with the word But. Sounds like a habit which needs breaking.
- Generic Descriptions: Using weak words in your descriptions (very, really, looked, great, etc.)? This will help you find them so you can spruce them up with something stronger.
- Homonyms: Accidentally confuse one word with another? This report finds the homophones, words having the same sound but different meaning, and homonyms, words having the same spelling but different meanings, so you can evaluate them and ensure you are inserting the correct words, the right places.
- Personal Words and Phrases: Exactly what it sounds like. This allows you to enter words and phrases which you would like AutoCrit to pay special attention to. So if you have a pet problem, like I tend to over use the word So, this can help you spot instances.
- Repeated Words, Repeated Uncommon Words, and Repeated Phrases are exactly what they sound like.
- Word and Phrase Frequency: Lists the top 100 words and phrases repeated in your story. The words counts are additionally compared to some genre averages with count and number to cut recommendations.
Basics of Compare to Fiction
These are two summary reports on the final tab (and some others on Home which I will be discussing soon). The summaries are excellent but they can be a bit overwhelming when you’re new to AutoCrit, at least they were to me. I would start by learning the other tabs and then once you have some interface and report familiarity, then tackle the combined reports.
- Overused Words: Combines overused adverbs, generic descriptions, passive voice, showing vs. telling, filler words, and sentence starters into a single list. It provides some genre recommendations for each and allows you easily jump to the other tabs for more detailed reporting.
- Combination Report: Combines overused words and phrases, repeated words, and personal words with the added ability to enable or disable any of the categories.
And lastly, the Home tab. I realize it’s first in the list of tabs but being mostly summary information, I wanted to save it until last.
- Summary: Exactly what it sounds like. It’s a single view which summarizes a number of the other reports and offers some added suggestions based on what it finds.
- Readability Statistics: A list of scores and statistics which can help you determine the readability grade level for your story. Writing for 10yr olds? This can help you spot if you’re hitting the right words.
- Dale Chall Readability: A list of words not classified as simple by the Dale Chall.
- Complex Words: Words containing three of more syllables.
- Uncommon Words in Fiction: Exactly that. You should have seen all the things that popped on this list when I ran it against my article here.
How should you start using AutoCrit?
If you just got your hands on AutoCrit and want to know how to ease yourself into the tool, here’s some advice.
First and foremost, play.
Yes, play! This is the kind of tool you need to experiment with so you can see how it works. So pick something you’ve written, something not too long, perhaps chapter one from your WIP, load it into the tool, and browse your way through each and every tab. Remember, you can edit the text you’ve uploaded right there on the page, Save it in AutoCrit for later continued work, then when you’re finished, copy paste, Export, or Email it back to yourself. The pertinent links for all of these things may be found just above the edit pane where you see your work:
After you’ve spent some time playing, the AutoCrit people have a nice getting started page you should look at here:
Their advice is to run through the tabs in this order:
- Dialog: both tags and adverbs
- Repetition: to find the words and phrases which are repeated too often and/or too close in proximity to one another
- Compare to Fiction | Overused Words: for a nice report on word overuse by genre.
- Strong Writing: one report at a time
- Word Choice: one report at a time
- FPacing: where you can check out the sentence variations and slow paced paragraphs.
I spent a good couple of weeks playing with various tabs before I ran across their above recommendation. Now I use a technique similar to theirs. I frequently start with Home | Summary if I want a quick overview of problem spots, then I move onto a simplified version of the above steps, tweaked to help me find my pet problems.
AutoCrit isn’t going to take the place of a good line editor or critique partner, but it does provide you with another tool for your self-editing toolbox. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all the interesting reports I can pull for my writing and I truly believe that AutoCrit is helping me become a better writer.
Thanks and enjoy your AutoCriting 🙂
Got questions? Ask Pat!
Join us on Wednesday for Adite Banerjie
Bio: After four years in the USMC, Patrick Haggerty studied Actuarial Science and Computers at Georgia State University. He has spent the past 15+ years developing and delivering technical training courses for Learning Tree International. On the side he has a successful consulting practice doing web application development for clients ranging from the United State Marines to Delta Airlines.
Seven years ago, stuck reading a mediocre book in yet another hotel, Patrick decided to try his hand at fiction. He may not be published, but these days you are much more likely to find him spending his evenings writing romance, than code. Patrick is an active member of RWA, RWAustralia, RW New Zealand, and is VP of Membership for Gulf Coast Romance Writers of America, and VP of OIRWA.
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