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Angel’s Bits: Shine It Up, Baby

alientypingHi! Life has been a bit of heck lately, apologies for the lack of bits. Er. You know what I mean.

Here’s a thing that we run into from authors of all skill levels – the notion that critique partners and editors will fix, clean up and spit polish your manuscript.

No. Just no. I really mean it. No.

Critique partners/ beta readers and editors are vital to your process. Absolutely. Hands down. No question. You need other eyes. You need expert advice. If you work with a publisher, you need to have someone checking the style guide (CMOS or otherwise.) But when you hand off your manuscript, it should be the best, cleanest darn manuscript you can possibly manage. This is your little manuscript’s first day at school, so make sure those teeth are brushed, the new clothes are clean, and your ms has its lunchbox.

To do that, sometimes we need a little help. Writers don’t all come with English Lit and Journalism degrees. Learning the rules is important, and writers of any skill level should be learning all the time, but it’s not a prerequisite to telling a good story.

So. What’s a writer to do? Word and most other word processing programs have rudimentary grammar and spelling checkers. This is good. You should have those turned on and all the appropriate boxes checked. But these internal programs are notoriously bad at certain things and tend to be far too literal. They won’t catch inappropriate word substitutions for example, or point out weak words or repetition.

Are there programs out there that might help? Why, yes. Yes, there are.

For the writer with less formal writing education, a good place to start is Grammarly. There’s a free version without all the bells and whistles, or you can download the premium subscription (which allows you to set for the type of document and style) for a fee. Not a huge one. Grammarly helps with spelling in context, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and style with the free version–all things that should be cleaned up prior to doing your first hand-off. Granted, this is fiction. You need to make allowances for dialogue and such. You, as the writer, need to make those calls, but Grammarly will help you spot your demons more easily.

If you’ve finished with the mechanics of your cleanup, you may want to have a program critique your writing next. A computer is in no way a substitute for a human critique. Computers don’t have a good handle on things like continuity, pacing or characterization. What they can do is help strengthen your writing.

Programs like Autocrit and Pro Writing Aid also have free options available and can help, for instance, with “weak” words, (words that probably have a stronger, more evocative alternative) words that you might use too frequently, and sentence length and variation.

The first sample of writing I placed into Autocrit, oh, so many years ago, had something on the order of 57 instances of the word “just.” (Just saying. Oops. There it is again.)

So clean it up. Make it shine. Let your critique partners and your editors concentrate on the story where you need them.


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2 thoughts on “Angel’s Bits: Shine It Up, Baby”

  1. I “walked on over” to the AutoCrit site, tried it with a few thousand words of chapter 1 of a gay Regency in progress, and decided it might be a helpful tool, as you suggested. I was ready to pay the USD 144.00 but then decided to ask members of the writing group I’d worked with if they had any experience.

    One member had used it for about a year, but stopped. No suggestion of dissatisfaction as a reason for doing so, and none of my business anyway. Another asked the question that I’m passing on to you: what about security on the site?

    If I were to do this, I’d expect to be uploading two to four novels over the course of the coming year, somewhere between 200K and 400K of unpublished material. Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but what kind of security does the site have? Are the uploaded materials retained beyond the time it takes to prepare the analysis?

    Any insight you might have would be greatly appreciated.



    • Hi Eric –

      You may want to ask Autocrit about their security – I’m in no way an expert on these matters. However, if you’re using any program for novel writing assistance where you need to upload data, I would suggest using only samples of your work. If you’re concerned about security and want a program that will look at your entire work, I would suggest purchasing software outright, such as Perfect It.


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