Tuesday, 15 April 2014

IN FAVOUR OF FREE EDITING



If you have the choice of going to the ball fashionably attired, or in your old clothes, the choice is obvious. Bear with me as I’m aware attending balls isn’t a regular occurrence in the lives of many working writers. In this scenario I’m comparing Pro Writing Aid, the free online editing tool to the better outfit, and your everyday clothing to your computer’s spell checker program. My apologies to the creators of the latter – their everyday standard is certainly adequate, but the online editing programs take your work to another level.

Auto Crit, Writers’ Dock, Editor Software and LitLift are several other programs available. When I first discovered this kind of help was free, I tried Auto Crit as well, but I found Pro Writing Aid worked best for me. And as I’m the not broken, don’t fix it type of person, I’ve continued to use the same program.   

The following two paragraphs are from a prompt written during a writing course I took a few years ago, and put through my computer’s grammar and spell check. 

Oaxaca bustles despite the simmering heat. Ellie sits in a window seat of the hotel restaurant scanning the crowd.  She takes a slug of cold cola. Momentary relief. No sign yet of Mimi or Roger. Nor of Jose, their contact and guide who’d driven them out to the mesa. She’s waited for two days now, unsure whether to go to the police or not. Sweat trickles down her back in slow warm drops.
Then she spots him. Jose. Standing right in front of the hotel. She recognizes his dirty green baseball cap. She taps hard on the window. He looks up. His eyes widen and his face flushes.  She stares at him as he turns and dashes into the road cutting through the slow moving traffic, disappearing from sight. Now she knows for sure something’s wrong. 

Here’s the same paragraph after running it through the online editing program.

 Oaxaca bustles despite the simmering heat. Ellie sits in a window seat of the hotel restaurant scanning the crowd.  She takes a slug of cold cola. Momentary relief. No sign yet of Mimi or Roger. Nor of Jose, their contact and guide who’d driven them out to the mesa. She’s waited for two days now, unsure whether to go to the police or not. Slow warm drops of sweat trickle down her back.
           Then she spots him. Jose. Standing near the entrance. She recognizes his dirty green baseball cap. She taps hard on the window. He looks up, eyes widening as he recognizes her. She watches in disbelief as he dashes into the road, cutting through the slow moving traffic, disappearing from sight. Now she knows for sure something’s wrong. 

Not a huge difference, (unlike some of the work I've put through this editing mill) but the program did highlight errors in the following categories; overused words, long sentences, sticky sentences, use of passives, repeated sentence starts, grammar (which includes spelling errors), repeated phrases, diction, and vague/abstract words.  

I looked at all the points picked up (two paragraphs didn’t take long), but left the final sentence as it was - despite the warning that now, for, sure, something, and wrong were all glue words (words that slow down readers) because that sentence expressed exactly what I wanted the character to think. Yet because the editing tool had emphasized this sentence, I gave that decision extra consideration – which is always a good thing to do. 

When editing with an online program, I found a couple of areas to be wary of, as Pro Writing Aid is, after all, a computer program. Dialogue is one of the weak areas. The way people talk using colloquial expressions, repetitions and clich├ęs doesn’t make the program a happy bunny. Misinterpretations of words do happen on occasion: the suggestion to change the vice squad to the versus squad made me laugh.  

 I’m not suggesting that writers don’t use human editors, and syntax is one area a breathing editor will be far sharper at spotting, but you can give yourself a head start in the editing game - and editing your work helps you detect and correct your most frequent errors.   

The one thing you don’t relinquish to any editor, computer or human, is your writing voice. My advice would be, use an online tool, they’re free and they’re good, just make sure you don’t edit the life out of your stories.  

Writing Update 

I’m editing a love story – well, it’s break up story – for Wattpad, but something keeps niggling even after running it through Pro Writing Aid (and yes, I did leave in a couple of repeated sentence starts for emphasis), but it still isn’t right. And it’s the plot line because I’m missing a discernible dramatic arc. Must every story have a dramatic arc? Maybe I could consider it a modernist story? But I like that rising tension – it’s what keeps me reading. I don’t think I have to rewrite the story, but a changing around of events might just work. 

Chapter one of Unknown Planet is with beta readers; Vance the Vamp (definitely a working title) is finally asleep, and research in one particular area I need more information about is on next week’s list. I know, me and my lists – but they remind me there’s always more to do, so I keep the momentum going. I am making progress, and it’s all good.  

Today’s Haiku
THE SEA
breathing in and out
slow sea murmurs sweet nothings –
massages the shore  

Useful Links:
If you want to try one of the following programs, check them out and see which one best fits your needs:
http://www.prowritingaid.com

http://www.litlift.com   

Karen Woodward puts a few famous writers through Pro Writing Aid:
blog.karenwoodward.org/.../want-help-with-editing-try-free.htm...
And Google + blogger C. M Skiera gives his take on the program:
cmskiera.blogspot.com/.../online-editing-software-pro-writing-aid.html   

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku and I'd love it if you could check out my stories on Wattpad.

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment. 
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

 




 


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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

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