Friday, January 18, 2019

Rules Don't Apply

So yeah this is another one of my war stories from Critique Circle.  Deal with it!  (Which you'll probably do by not reading this or most other entries.  Very clever strategy!)

This one person bought some program that's supposed to help with grammar and junk.  For fun he/she put in a chapter from a bestseller to see how it'd work.  Here are the results:
I am in the middle of a two-week trial of ProWritingAid and am really enjoying it. It is very helpful to see stats on things like pronouns, passive writing, number of adverbs, sticky words, dialogue, pacing, etc.
 Just for run, I typed in chapter 2 of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (runaway bestseller from a few years ago) and ran the review on it. The chapter was almost 2,400 words. Here's what stands out.
 For those of you who are not familiar with ProWritingAid, the software gives your writing a score on a scale of 1-100 in various categories (grammar, style, readability, etc.) It considers the target to be anything above 80. Anything at 80 or below is considered below the standard and needs work. The Nightingale got scores of 73 (style), 55 (grammar), 77 (readability - Flesch scale) and 67 (overall). Wow. Ms. Hannah needs a serious editor (just kidding).
 It also has other benchmarks, such as average sentence length (it consider 11 words or better as the goal) and sentence variety. Her average sentence was 13.2 words, and her variety got a score of 7.0 (anything above 3 is good).
 She used a whopping 15 adverbs!! Rap her knuckles with a ruler. She had nine sticky sentences (too many glue words; recommended target is 0) and a glue index of 45.1% (target is 40% or lower).
 The chapter was 7.8% dialogue, and 34.6% of it was considered "slow pacing" - i.e. scene setting, internals, etc. The software didn't set benchmarks for either of those categories.
 Her pronoun score was 8.8% (target range 4-15%) and her initial pronoun usage (i.e. sentences that start with a pronoun) was 26.7% (target less than 30%).

So for the most part this wonderful program said this book was mediocre at best.  Yet it was a bestseller!  Which to me means all those "rules" they tell you are full of crap.

For whatever reason this one moron who's been trying to sell a stupid book about living teddy bears or whatever (It's totally not like Toy Story or anything!) took personal offense at my comment.  I suspect the reason is she bought this program and probably thought it would make her into a bestselling author.

Well it turns out from this person's experiment that bestselling books don't follow the standards of this program.  So maybe this program isn't the best for deciding what's good writing.  Hence maybe the moron with the teddy bear book got cheated.  Like many people though she couldn't really fight with facts because the facts are right there in black and (whatever background color).  Sure the book passed some of the tests, but not most of them.  She said:
Considering you haven't tried the software to see what it does, it's more proof you prefer to judge stuff before, than proof of what it does or doesn't do.
Which whether I bought the program or not is irrelevant.  I wasn't judging the program; I was judging the results of the program.

So then we had a little back-and-forth:
HER:  And, it said, point-by-point, she nailed it.
ME:  Actually it said the opposite if you bothered to read the post.
HER:  No, it said that only if you're clueless about the program. Once in a while, learn what you're talking about before posting.

How dumb is this chick?  I mean do I have to draw it out for her?  According to her precious program this bestselling book was not great.  It failed to meet standard after standard.  But it sold anyway.  Meaning those standards are bullshit.  It's really not that hard to follow, is it?  You don't need a degree in accounting like me to figure it out, do you?

Like I said, I think she had too much personally invested in the program to admit it's really not that important.  Bottom line to me is that "rules" even when they're espoused by agents, editors, or bestselling authors like Stephen King, are bunk.  What matters is whether someone thinks he/she can sell your book.  And that is why you fail, not because of some stupid program.  While I'm using a Star Wars quote, Luke blew up the Death Star because he turned off the targeting computer and used the Force; he relied on himself and not the machine.  Think about it.


  1. so...she ran ONE chapter of ONE book through this program and decided it could be her ticket to riches and fame? Now if we had data from like 100 chapters from 100 different books by different authors then maybe we could see if it's good or bad. And maybe she should put her own work through the thing and post those results...oh wait, she didn't want to post that she got a 17 overall on her work :p

  2. I love your Star Wars comparisons. Some people stay in critique groups too long. Others stay stuck on the same story, striving for a master piece for years, but never feeling like it's there. If one publishes, you finally go forward. She's probably has a fear of failure, and most writers do, but even if you fail, you learn.



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