Writing Rules (the g@me)

After a lengthy but enlightening e-mail conversation with my son – who moved to another state to make a living after graduating college – I thought it would help me (and maybe you) if I were to post the conversations here for future reference.

It all started when I came across two online programs, Autocrit and ProWritingAid, both created to help writers identify certain types of mistakes in their work. You copy a small portion (500-800 words) of your writing, paste it into the program, and click Analyze.

Both programs offer about the same types of standard information in their analysis to include Overused words, Sentence Variation, Cliches & Redundancy, Repeated Words & Phrases, Pacing, Dialogue, Initial Pronouns & Names, Readability, etc. Only a select few are offered for free, though. If you want the whole enchilada then you need to pay from $47-$117 for Autocrit and subscriptions that start at $35 for Pro Writing Aid.

Personally, I like Pro Writing Aid better as it seemed slightly more thorough and a little easier to comprehend, but not by much. In either case, the advice proved sketchy and only truly helpful in the Redundancy category. Both show examples of what they found, but the confusion reigns when you receive high praise yet the advice to “…use 5 or fewer, use 3 or less” in the same instance.

Anyway, on with the e-mail conversation, which I hope will shed more light on the above programs and help me (us) better understand what is actually going on.

It was after having read and re-read my son’s remarks that I was better able to see where the two software programs led and why I was becoming confused. I am slow, too, by the way.

These programs are bots and therefore not a human with a brain. The software bot is programmed to seek and find the algorithms fed it; nothing more. In other words, it isn’t reading your work or comprehending the words but simply scanning them to find whatever has been fed into its data base.

It helps, but only to a minor extent.

Here are portions of the e-mails:

Hi buoy!
Today I had a lot of fun web surfing (lol – bit of irony there).
Anyway, I ended up searching after clicking some links in articles and found this website that lets you copy/paste portions of your writing into a box, you click analyze, and then these reports show up to give you editing advice. It was neat, and I want to share my results with you if that’s alright?


alliteration Report (I can’t remember what this means, but I got a good score) 

Now, I’m not expecting for you to read everything I’d written within the software program, just the highlights to give you an idea of what these two bots are capable of showing.

alliteration report

VAGUE and ABSTRACT words (what do they mean?)

vague n abstract words report

… sentence length – (does it make any sense to you?)

sentence length report

… and the inconsistencies report

overused word count report

inconsistencies report

Here is my son’s reply … (I’ll apologize to all you Twilight fans ahead of time).

Those revision machines look interesting but I would only listen to them if you understand/agree with what errors they point out.

Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sound. It sounds really good actually!  (he means my writing!)

Sentence structure: it seems best to have a variety of sentence structures. You remember Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound-Complex? Don’t be afraid of the Lord Byron paragraph long sentence every once in a while.

The overused word counter is not properly weighted. A perfect piece of writing should not be one that NEVER uses any of those words. But when you start using more than five of the same word in a paragraph then we have trouble.

I thought that dialogue tags were actually better than saying “said” a hundred times.???

MY RESPONSE to dialogue tags:

I also can’t STAND to have to read he said / she said a million times. But, why is this somehow acceptable but not he groaned, she sighed, he laughed, she exclaimed? It also bugs the crap out of me to see things like: “What?” he said. Really? I said. I mean, I ASKED.

And, to a certain extent, I agree with you about the need NOT to inject them at all in some instances. If it’s pure dialogue, back and forth banter … then the quotes themselves should suffice and the reader should know who is saying what.

The last few books that I have read, though, and always the modern right-now issues on e-pub do this constantly.

he said, he said, she said, he said, she said, she said, she said, he said. Drives me bonkers and I don’t want to do that in my own writing. Which brings me to my real dilemma. The trouble I’m having with these critiques. Do I follow their rules to the letter and lose myself as a result, or do I keep plugging away and hope it works?

Another thing, too, about this machine analysis is that it actually helped make me see WHY modern novels published online are so … well … mundane stupid. Irritating, even. The story itself is interesting, but trying to read it is a chore.

I think a lot of these artists are like me and want to do everything perfect. Perfect in the sense that they are following these patent guidelines in the hopes of selling their work.

I would like to make money, yes, and I want people to enjoy my work so that they will buy everything I publish down the line, but I am stubborn in that I almost want to refuse to play that game and follow those rules. I’d hate to find out that it’s my pride or inflated ego that makes me feel the way I do, but I just think the way I write (WITH the need for editing) is fine. It is readable, understandable, it says something, and it goes to a place where my readers want to go – as close to the edge of make-believe as they are comfortable going without leaving the reality realm altogether.

Son: Eloquence is just showing you noun+adjective pairs. Not sure how that is the determiner of eloquence but it is true that writers who use adjectives and adverbs as much as they do verbs and nouns are good.

Son: Sticky seems to be detecting sentences with many pronouns. I think the stickiness is the antecedent confusion… Who is “he,” what is “it,” who are “many,” what are the “all” etc. But those sentences read well. Except maybe the last one has a bit too many pronouns.

MY RESPONSE to eloquence/sticky:

Again, I got the gist of the glue rule, but in my writing is where I get confused about the rule. I hope that makes better sense? And, thank you for the compliment! But, that just proves where and why I am so confused. The ‘bot’ may be able to detect these algorithms, but that doesn’t make the writing itself bad. The ‘bot’ isn’t comprehending the story, just what it is programmed to find.

The reader (and me) wouldn’t like to read the same word a million times in a single paragraph, yet it is acceptable to read Hugh said a hundred times? Hugh walked over, Hugh turned around, Hugh eyed the car, Hugh went to the kitchen, Hugh sat down, Hugh punched the idiot at the bar. This is redundancy and sticky (to me) yet it goes on all the time in what I am reading of late. This drives me batty. If we start the paragraph using Hugh’s name, the reader knows who is in the scene, yes? So, if the writer continues in that paragraph to explain what he is up to at that moment, is repeating his name really necessary?

In the same vein, if you start a paragraph with Jake, Tom, Ethan, and Hugh were on their way to another forest fire somewhere in upstate Alaska. (then the reader has a pretty good idea about WHO is in this paragraph – or three). The paragraph continued: It was the fourth time in a month that THEY were called into action for the same offense: campers forgetting the basic safety rules of prevention. On THEIR way to the helicopter pad, Tom said HE needed to pee. THE OTHERS grumbled, not surprised that it was happening – again.”Damn it,” snarled Ethan. “Is it supposed to be a joke or something?” “Nerves.” Jake suggested, swiping his nose to keep from laughing aloud.”Shut up and pack the gear.” EVERYONE glanced at Hugh, and then forgetting about Tom’s weak bladder, THEY proceeded to gear up for THEIR latest search and rescue mission.

If the reader is far enough along in the story, then even having to list their names in the first sentence shouldn’t be necessary. “Hugh and the others were on their way …” because Hugh is the main character and the boys working with him that summer are bit parts. They’ve already been introduced so the reader knows who it is that always end up with him during every search & rescue scenario that plays out in the story. They already know that Tom is a goof, Ethan is a snob, and Joe is the level-headed referee while Hugh continues to walk around in perpetual anger about something dreadful that occurred ten years ago – which is why he continues in search & rescue.

I think I don’t want to insult my readers any more than I feel insulted reading others work who tend to follow these bland rules – who knows. Pride again?

Son: You DO have talent and sad to say but true that the most prideful make the best work.  

One criteria which I think is a great discovery here is “repeated sentence openers.” I’m pretty sure that is why Twilight  is such crap.

MY RESPONSE: Lolz. And, I know this rule. I’ve known this rule since the 4th grade. It is something that I look hard for in my writing because to be perfectly honest … I mean HONEST … it is a subconscious thing while pounding the keys for a few hours. When you go back and re-read you’re like ‘shit’ and have to edit for the next hour or so. Which I’m not too sure ever occurred to our wealthy-beyond-hell Stephenie Meyer.
Twilight, btw, is a prime example of what a LOT of e-pub work reads like. And I am convinced now that it is because the desperate author is rigidly following these bot rules and reading too much into ‘what every editor expects to find when you submit’ rules.
But, what I’m trying to point out is that when you’re writing about a certain figure that takes up a few paragraphs of a chapter, the tendency or even the need to start a few paragraphs with Echo becomes difficult to write any, other way. If you started the first Paragraph with Echo, the tendency to use SHE at the start of the next one is great. Since She is unacceptable outside the end of a quote, then the burden becomes greater for the writer. Sometimes you can see where shifting a phrase to the front of the opening paragraph sentence will work, but not always.
Echo sat near the water contemplating her life ….
(new para) After awhile, Echo decided to take a walk …
(new para) The not-to-distant sound of a bear forced Echo to head back to the cottage …
See, I am struggling NOT to type the word SHE at the start of a paragraph. And, since I’ve already used her name several times, why can’t I say SHE?? I want to use pronouns to avoid redundancy, and yet redundancy and pronouns are hex.
Son: Vague and abstract is only bad when a specific and concrete word should take its place. In the case of this paragraph, it has a voice to it that sounds like a romantic with some insecurity (are you narrating?) Therefore it fits the purpose just right. VOICE is the most important. If you can read it out (better if one can read it to you) and it sounds just like you imagined it when you wrote it then you are doing fine.

MY response to vague/abstract:

lol again and NO, I’m not narrating – but then yes, yes I am, because … I’m the one writing the story? Again, absolutely gobsmacked about this observation. Who is telling the story. The author! duh! However, I am not so stupid that I don’t get the ‘character’ versus ‘unnamed observer’ and all that first, third person and omnipotent god-like stuff. I get it.
And, no, it isn’t me TELLING the story so much as it is a part of myself being projected THROUGH Echo, the main lady of the story. My experiences, trials, past history … isn’t that the same as ‘write about what you know‘? A character may sound familiar to anyone who personally knows the author, but that doesn’t mean the author is thinking she is the main character in her novel. Does it?

There have got to be elements of me in there because I’m the one writing. How can an author NOT think the way they do and write without interjecting? Someone in Game of Thrones is hella like George R. R. Martin – no?

Echo isn’t me, though. She isn’t any one person I know but a conglomeration of me and a few friends all rolled into one woman. My main character is her own being who starts out one way, turns into someone she loathes, and where the story begins, embarks on a journey to change herself into a much improved and more worthy receiver of herself as a result. I am just the guide who knows what pain, suffering, loneliness, and rejection feel like. The use and abuse she endures is real from my perspective, nothing more. I am completely capable of setting up instances where shit happens to make it effect the recipient.

The opening chapter is about her. She’s there, in the moment, introducing herself as a washed-up (literally and figuratively) young woman who doesn’t realize it yet but is on the verge of reinventing herself.

The Phoenix phenom in a very laid-back, hardly cliche kind of way, trust me.

I thought that it was Echo’s voice telling the story, with a bit of narrative thrown in. If I’m wrong, then this is where I need you to show me how and why I am wrong, because I just don’t get it.

The opening chapter begins on a desert isle Echo just awakened to find herself on, btw. The entire 800 word limit the bot gave me to have analyzed is of that opening scene.

Echo awakens to find herself on this tiny island in the pacific.She was tricked into thinking it was an office party on a yacht in San Fran’s harbor that she was invited to attend. Echo is hungry, in pain, and suffering from sunburn, exposure, and vague memories of what occurred to bring her to that state.

(I think you would say something like: metaphors! nice!)

(Synopsis: All Rights Reserved – no infringementsEcho‘s not happy at that point in the story because nothing has gone right for Echo in awhile. Not since Echo lost Echo‘s parents and had to move from a cozy subdivision and Echo‘s friends to live with Echo‘s aging grands in some remote wilderness on a 1st Nation reservation up in the Canadian west coast. No friends, nothing to do, and missing Echo‘s parents.

Echo tried college but had to quit when Echo‘s grandpa got sick.
Echo tried various ways to make money but always had to quit due to aging grands health issues. (they’re dead by the time the story starts, though).
Echo‘s quite artistic and continues to sculpt, paint, create, design for something to do.

Echo has a website but ignores it when an unbelievable job offer appears as if from out of nowhere.  Echo runs away, basically. Echo jumps at the strange job offer and delves into Echo‘s work, wanting to be with people and make friends, go places and do things Echo felt had been denied Echo for so long.

Echo‘s family attorney knows Echo‘s land is prime and cheap to buy at a windfall profit for the company AND him because he’s the one pulling all the strings. They devise this plan to get Echo out of the picture, and thinking Echo is going to said office party aboard the yacht, Echo‘s harrowing journey begins. (*All Rights Reserved – no infringements*)

Seriously, this is the gist of the 1st chapter, but I had to make it appear the way a lot of the e-pub books read. It’s insane, and I can’t do that. I just can’t. There has GOT to be a legitimate need for pronouns in life, and I for one will uphold that notion. I will defend the use of pronouns until I die!

LONG LIVE THE PRONOUN! And cliches, for that matter. I think they’re hilarious. Oh, and colloquialism. It’s such a pretty word, why wouldn’t anyone want to keep it’s meaning alive?

Son: Screw the machine and long live pronouns. That was the funniest/stupidest summary I ever read– without pronouns. I’m pretty sure it is referring to several different antecedents in one sentence that is troublesome.

And thus ended a long-winded yet productive piece of e-mail mother/son variety.
The above-written synopsis and excerpts from my unpublished novel are still the property of ME, (all rights reserved). Thank you in advance.
So, if this blog post makes any sense to anyone at all, I will likely continue with the purpose of helping me (and you) along on my journey to becoming a published author.
When I started writing (5th grade) I wrote because something inside me just needed to get out – on paper, using colorful gel pens – and if there were no pen/paper then it was oral presentation time into a small recorder, or to my girlfriends in the park. As I grew and matured, writing escaped me for a few years. I became too busy taking care of the life I was living and never gave it a second thought. Well, that’s not entirely true. The minute I had a few minutes to myself, I was online blogging about everything from gardening, health food choices, and my current mood to music and fashion.
Then I delved deep, deep down into the recesses of my forgotten soul and started writing with a vengeance. At one point just a few years ago I had a grand total of 17 story ideas inside my PERSONAL folder on desktop.
I wasn’t afraid of sharing my work with others anymore, either.
I posted excerpts on another blog site, I begged friends and family to read my work aloud to me, and on and on it went.
It was a passive/aggressive form of SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME! that was never, really heard.
Someone who once read my REAL writing said I need to find my ‘style’ and another kept asking about ‘voice’ … who was telling the story? Yet another wanted to know what was the point of the story.
It should be obvious from this blog and my attached writing sample that I am still crying out in the wilderness for said help.
I’m not sure these bots are the answer, though.
I took my son’s advice, however, and am once again falling into the habit of reading ALOUD what I write instead of scanning the laptop screen during revision time. It helps a lot to actually ‘hear’ mistakes or bad prose than to just read a bunch of words you are quite familiar with already.
Step One in a process that could take a lifetime to master, I know.

About RaineBalkera

Aspiring Author of Romance
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