Tag Archives: Cut extra words

Using “The Bookalyser” to Help You Edit Your Manuscript

A digital eye on your text

A digital eye on your text

I’ve reblogged Louise Harnby’s “10 Ways to Proofread Your Own Writing” from Chris the Story Reading Ape’s blog. Harnby’s post is full of free tools for catching slips in your final copy. I decided to try out one of them, “The Bookalyser” on the completed ms. of my as-yet-unpublished Surfing the Bones, a 98,000-word mystery.

STB had gone through an extensive edit, not least because an online critique process had left it much richer emotionally but far too long. Even though I’m currently responding to a beta read by updating some of the technology driving the plot and making minor setting changes, I considered the draft a good example of my own editing process. So I was curious to see what an editing app could tell me. What did I miss?

I have an advantage because I’m a grammar nerd capable of catching non-standard verb forms and recognizing passive-voice constructions. I can also form plural possessives, an apparently challenging task.Green smiley with a quizzical smile So standard “grammar-checkers” don’t help me much; they usually just object to my deliberate sentence fragments or my decision to start a sentence with “But.” I wanted to see if The Bookalyser offered more.

Like many programs for writers, the BA has a free version and two levels of paid versions. I used the free one. The site says out front that the tool won’t help you with style and usage questions; Word, it says, can do that. Instead, this tool provides a numerical/statistical portrait of certain features of your ms.

As advertised, if you register with email and password, it will run through your full manuscript in seconds and provide a full printout of its findings.

Rather than describe the “more than 70 different tests (and growing) across 17 report areas,” I’ll discuss what I found most useful.

I learned that

  • I use the word “maybe” 166 times, which is 10 times more than usual for fiction. Worth a search to see if I can cut some of those. Still, 166 times in 98,000 words isn’t cause for panic, I am relieved to say.
  • Less than 1% of my text consists of the dreaded “-ly” adjectives, and only two appeared more often than expected. The app did call “belly” an “-ly” adverb, but I guess that can be forgiven in such a complex app.
  • “Filler words” like “actually,” “fairly,” “just,” and “really” made up 0.59% of my text, as compared to 0.65% for fiction in general. Still, worth doing a search to see whether these are needed.
  • I used “said” as a dialogue tag 207 times and some other tag 41 times, with only 7 of these tags used more than once. I report proudly that I used a dialogue tag with an “-ly” adverb only 8 (!!!) times in my 98,000-word text.
  • The app did look for “passive” constructions, which it defined broadly, with “is dead,” “was afraid,” and “be afraid” alongside true PV forms like “was followed” or “been killed.” In other words, predicate adjectives counted in this category. Even so, the app said that only 2.5% of my sentences fell into its “passive” categories. Hooray.
  • The app compared phrases that I had hyphenated with instances of the same phrase that I did not hyphenate. I’m pretty good on hyphens, but this choice is well worth a search.
  • It also encouraged me to look at spelling inconsistencies like “check out” vs. “checkout” and “web site” vs. “website.” Quick checks should allow me to decide on a preferred form.

Suggestions for eliminating possible redundancies were less helpful. I looked at a number of these and will look at them all, but found that the shorter version often sounded less natural, especially in dialogue. These are judgment calls often resulting in a savings of one word. While in my aggressive edit to eliminate 7000 words, every word did count, the trade-off (hmmm, hyphen?) was problematic. Example: “He didn’t admit to a crime” vs. “He didn’t admit a crime.” I’ll stick with the former. That said, the program did catch “more perfect”—but this one was in dialogue. Big green smiley

Oh, and it said it didn’t find any “Clichéd similes/comparisons.” ♥♥♥

I didn’t find useful information under “Commonly confused words and phrases,” but many writers will probably appreciate this section. The app captures proper names and variances in capitalization as well. It listed word counts of various kinds, like most frequently used, most frequently used word trios, and most frequently used to open sentences. In my first-person text, “I” opened 1329 sentences compared to “He” (645) and “The” (435). Probably not a problem, but maybe worth a look.

In short, this is a FREE, rapid-acting tool that does provide interesting insights into my writing habits, offering me the chance to save a copy editor some work one day—and to produce a better-edited text should I publish this book myself. I recommend.

 

 

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Filed under Editing your novel, indie publishing, Print on Demand for fiction writers, self editing for fiction writers, Self-publishing, Tech tips for writers, writing novels

Power Cutting from Someone Who Had To!

Pair of scissors for cutting text.

Bad news.

The very first line of your query has to tell the agent or editor how long your book is.

The execrable fact is that they expect certain genres to fall within certain limits.

When you’re an overwriter, like me, always able to stroke out one more metaphor, one more lilting phrase, one more neat character detail, hitting those word limits can be a challenge.

The problem intensifies when your writing groups and betas want “More! More!” Or when they push you to look at issues in your story that you glossed over before but now can’t leave unresolved.

So I faced querying a psychological-suspense manuscript at 107,000+ words and an accidental-detective mystery at 106,000+. I’m here to report that both books are now under 100,000 words.

Victory lap after cutting 6000+ words from my manuscript!
Victory Lap!

I’ve read enough submissions in writing groups to know that I’m not the only one in need of a repertoire of tricks (okay, strategies) for corralling a manuscript that has bolted for the hills. I needed “Power Cutting” skills.

I know what a lot of us would say: Cut 7,000 words?!? That will destroy my book! My brilliant writing will win over readers no matter how long it is.

Maybe, but you have to get an agent or editor to read your brilliant writing instead of thinking, “That sounds way too long.”

In fact, my efforts taught me strategies, many of them simple fixes, that actually improved my books rather than devastating them.

Not only will these strategies help you catch bad habits, they’ll force you to think hard about your story: What is it about, what belongs and what doesn’t? At least, that’s what Power Cutting did for me.

Here are some of the big-ticket things I learned.

Have a word-count goal. Until you make up your mind that you MUST cut, you won’t. Watching that number at the bottom of the screen sink and sink inspires!

Start, obviously, with familiar “fillers” like “very” and “really.” Read up on advice for recognizing useless words.

Cut hard now, reconsider later. You might cut too hard and scrape off too much voice, but storing your cuts in a separate, renamed file saves your original language, ready to reinstate after you’ve exceeded your goal.

Remember that no one but you knows what you took out. No one else will miss your golden imagery or your delicate dialogue exchange.

Cut via a complete read-through. You’ll spot problems like repetition that would not show up if you dove in at random, and you’ll maintain the continuity of your story.

Throughout, remember that clarity comes first. Always make sure, for example, that it’s clear who’s speaking before you cut a dialogue tag.

Ask first and last, what does this scene/paragraph/line add? Three cuts to look for:

  • Work you’ve already done. Yes, certain themes and events should be kept before your readers, but when you find yourself thinking, “Didn’t he already say this?”, he probably did. If there’s no new twist to a scene or interior monologue, it can go.
  • Dialogue exchanges that don’t further the plot. Banter for banter’s sake, no matter how scintillating, takes up real estate. Dialogue cuts better when it’s sharp.
  • Piled up details/metaphors/images. In literary fiction, you can interweave whole pages of lyrical description with luscious introspection. In commercial fiction, most paragraphs drag after more than one detail or image, no matter how powerful. Pick the one that does the most work in the fewest and/or most evocative words.

I found some more specific strategies as I progressed with my cutting. I’ll share some of those in an upcoming post.

Some colored pencils for cutting!
You’ll need a few of these.

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Filed under Editing your novel, Finding literary agents for writers, indie publishing, looking for literary editors and publishers, Plot Development for writers, writing novels