Bells and Whistles: Fancy Grammar Editors for Writers

from openclipart.org by j4p4n

 


As I shared recently on my personal blog, grammar is the bane of my existence.  I’m so excited to tell the story or express my idea, that I never push pause and wonder if I’m structuring well. Then, I have comb through everything looking for missing letters, forgotten articles, passive voice, adverbs, missing commas, and the list goes on.

This is NOT a post about the weakest element of my writing (though my rambling could transform it to that in an instant).  Instead, I would like to present writers with some tools to combat the grammar demon.  After all Microsoft Word and Open Office’s tools, don’t catch most mistakes writers fear.  

ProWritingAid: Is hands down my favorite editing tool.  I use the “style” and “grammar/spelling” report the most and it helps me find all my major pitfalls.  There are over 20 reports a writer can comb through.  It allows me to hunt down overused words, pacing problems, and repetitive sentence structure.  When I’m “into” my story, I can spend days pouring through the reporting procedures making every element perfect.  And I walk away with the sense I improved my writing

Beyond the different reports, there are different evaluations for different writing.  I set my editor to ‘Creative’ on default, but you may prefer, “business”, “casual”, “web” or one of the other seven styles.

I use ProWritingAid in the web editor mode, but it has add ons that connect it to Mac, Scrivener, Word, and more.  I’ve been working with the software for a little over the year and there are major quality of life improvements with this software.  For example it doesn’t get rid of my bold, italic, or underlined text anymore when I copy and paste from one document t to another.  

ProWritingAid allows you to use their editor for 500 words or fewer for free.  To use the editor on longer works you must purchase.  They have many pricing options and it’s affordable (less so than when I bought in but still WORTH IT).  

Grammarly: This was the hottest grammar software on the market three years ago when I first poked around in the blogging world.  I was convinced this thing would 100% make all the right corrections, and I was disappointed.  A fellow writers’ group member, Ashley Saunders, (who is an expert on all syntax and structure) pointed out how much the software missed in my writing.  She complained my “edited” draft still read like a rough draft.

Because I was so disappointed with the free services of Grammarly, I never investigated if the paid version provided better corrections.  The pricing is more reasonable now than it was then.  It may be worth consideration.  Still, ProWritingAid offers more evaluation tools.  For a writer looking to make their work the best and not just grammatically sound, ProWritingAid exceeds Grammarly.

Hemingway App: An excellent free web app that offers writers insight into readability, adverbs, and passive voice.  I used to run everything through here.  Since I’ve worked with ProWritingAid a year, I’m convinced the software finds everything Hemmingway App does and makes more helpful suggestions on how to correct issues I’ve encountered.  Still, this a wonderful free app and perfect for an aspiring writer not ready to invest any money in a new editor.

Word Counter:  I haven’t played a lot with this online tool, but it’s an interesting cross between Grammarly, Hemmingway App and a word production app.  Their evaluations look interesting and the service is free.  They send me emails about twice a week and the topics are interesting.

Do you have a grammar editor of preference?  Am I missing the BEST one?  Have I over hyped one editor while downplaying another?  Talk to me, tell me more about the tools you use to make your writing everything it can be.

looking for more Writing tools Check out the First in the “Bells and Whistles”
series: applications that encourage writing.  Or check out “What’s In a Name?”  for name generating tools.

All About that Genre, that Genre, that Genre

image from open clipart.org by SteveLambert


When I queried agents over my novel Follow Me: Tatter Veils, I got one personal rejection.  The agent (and I apologize as I can’t find the email to name him) told me a major stumbling block I might encounter in pitching my novel is that I suggested it for multiple genres.

My mind makes connections.  If someone followed my thought process, it’s like one of those mind maps except almost everything connections to each other some way.  In all my work pulling together this massive 75,000 word work, I’d never thought opening it up as a genre crossover would limit my ability to market.

Since then, I describe Follow Me: Tattered Veils as an Urban Fantasy. It fits considering the book happens in present day world and introduces magical/mythic elements into an otherwise mundane setting.

Except, it also doesn’t fit.  Follow Me: Tattered Veils is at its heart a book about obsession and stalking.  The protagonist, Roxi, is living her daily life when Gerry, an ancient unpredictable fae being, deigns to take notice of her.  From there, it’s a cat-and-mouse game of near brushes and tense attempts from Gerry to lure Roxi into his world.  The novel culminates in a chase through faery land where Roxi must either save her friends and escape this dangerous world or surrender her autonomy to Gerry.   

Could be Magical Realism.  I use the concept of fae glamour to make these otherworldly beings hide in plain sight.  I suggest this idea of two realities, the one we know and this other layer waiting underneath that Gerry, Roxi, and others work with.  It isn’t the traditional secret society type deal, more like an alternative experience of reality.

But, I think Magical Realism has more magic integrated that’s just a shoulder shrug.  Everyone knows about it, accepts it, and moves on.  My magic systems imply they are real like Christianity and like Christianity, few people have or seek a genuine experience.

My colleague Lionel Green, suggested the back was “terrifying” and he read straight through that part “non stop”.  It makes me wonder, is my work horror?  There are both the real world and fantasy elements of the book that are horrifying.  

In my heart, the book is a lot more about how a woman experiences the male gaze.  In that way, I think Follow Me: Tattered Veils might be women’s fiction.  The men who have read the book suggest that they “enjoyed reading it.  Good on its own, but I’d never buy this book based on the description.”  Does this feedback mean I’m marketing the book badly for both genders or is the work intended for a female audience? 

This sort of bullshit was why I wanted an agent.  Don’t they help you find and speak to an audience?  What do they do?  Because I had the idea, wrote it, edited it, and submitted it. So I’m just wondering when someone else comes in to help or if publishing is a solo journey.    

Alas, I need to choose the genre too.  Is there any part of publishing that isn’t a struggle?

Does anyone else have trouble identifying their genre?  Do you think being in the right genre is core to success?  Have you written anything that someone has labeled a cross over?

What about summarizing long works or picking which elements are most paramount?  I am so invested in Follow Me: Tattered Veils, sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s important.  Any tips or tricks?  Do I Google search what’s hot and sell it that way?

How Did you Become a Writer?

image from open clipart.org uploaded by j4p4n

 

No idea who first said it, but someone said: “If you write, you’re a writer.”  It wasn’t a conscious decision filled with tedium and angst.  I picked up a pencil, learned my alphabet, and have been part of the writer’s club since first grade.  My first stories all fall into the haunted house genre.  Ghosts, friends dying or disappearing, and an ever increasing series of rooms.  I told the story “Winchester” with the same stakes, except sometimes my characters didn’t survive.  So better and told by a child, I guess I was too ahead of my time to rake in all that Hollywood money.  At least I have creative satisfaction?

I’m mentioning this anecdote because a common writers’ blog question is “when did you decide you wanted to be a writer?”  Is telling stories a choice for some people?  Like is anyone in a room saying “I’m about to have an amazing idea for a story, but I need to get a jump on quantum mechanics so hard pass on inspiration.”  Or are these people like “my dream was to be a plumber, but damn the money and security of writing is so tempting, I quit my trade school despite all the people encouraging me to follow my passion.”

The other thing I love about “when did you take the plunge to become a writer?” is the implication that a person stopped being anything else as soon as they choose writing.  Yes Bob, I was a student, but Mrs.  Williams asked me to write a story and I enjoyed it so much that I decided screw it, I’m a writer now!  Or Wendy was a stay at home mom but then she started moonlighting as a blog content creator.  Now her kids are in the orphanage, aspiring to write a compelling enough version of their life that maybe their mother will acknowledge them creatively even if she had to abandon them for the work.

The framing implies everyone who writes should have the one goal: to make writing a full-time profession and excludes the reality of most writers.  It’s a passion we pursue around our lives, not a career we move towards single minded.  And props to the rare, lucky, privileged few who make writing a full-time gig.  I don’t mean to erase this group, I just think they’re a minority.

A more apt question in my perspective: “Was there ever a time you weren’t a writer or didn’t want to write?”  Or even better “How big a part of your identity is writing and are there times where you feel it over grows its boundaries?”

None of the writers I know have a “and that’s when I realized I was a writer story” but most of them have “and that’s when I realized I’d gone too far,” or “now when I have time, there’s no writing,” anecdotes.

What about you?  Is “when did you become a writer?” a meaningful question?  Are there times you wish you weren’t a writer?  Is writing enough validation of your career/hobby or do you only thing published writers have a claim to the title?

Swiping Inspiration

graphic from open clipart.org by qubodup

 

Writing is theft.   Confession time: there are no characters, situations, or concepts in my writing I haven’t lifted from a real world experience.  While anything is fair game for a story, I’m most focused on having “real characters” that a reader can relate to and believe are real while I make a world full of the fantastic these normal people have to deal with.  Because I like character studies, my most stolen tidbits comes from the surrounding people. 

When I talk to you with that over eager, boisterous barrage of questions, I am interested in you, but I’m also pilfering all your experiences and responses to mash up later when I sit down to write.  Do not leave me alone in a room because I rifle through every drawer.  There’s no shame in my cat killing curiosity and there’s no end to it.  Tell me to back off anytime now.  I know my intensity is off-putting, and I try to keep a lid on it.  If we ever meet, I hope you’d never suspect how hungry I am to hear your life story.  How much I want to dig into an abstract hobby of yours.  I want facts I can check to see if you’re the honest sort, but either truth or lies, I’ll incorporate that study to some Frankenstein-esque mash up of you and four other people I met this week.  It’s alive, and the only part I can claim rights to is how I fit the Tetris blocks together.   

What in your day-to-day life do you steal the most inspiration from?  Are your gems personal experiences and past events?  Or do you explore expansive new places, plumbing each place for its local traditions, retooling them to your desires?  Do current or past politics spur you into creative world building?  Are you seeking to recapture old myths and fairytales in an unique way?  Or maybe you dream of technological break through in the present and think of what they’d mean in the future (or what they would mean if delivered to the past)?  There’s so much information offered, rife for a writer to pluck up and entwine into a new story.  How is a creative to choose?  Tell me what you hunt for, what parts of your story are the “most real” and how do you obscure the origins of those tidbits?

Would You Rather….

image from open clipart.org by oksmith

 

Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory?  Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?

 

I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even on books I like. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication.  Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books?  Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets?  For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.

 

Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.

 

Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing.  Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”

 

That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing.  I have an unique “tone.”  If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit.  If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too.  It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

Grammatically, I know I need serious help.  Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me.  Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.

 

Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure?  My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters.  I still want the feedback.  For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.

 

Please give me your thoughts.  Do you fear another kind of feedback?  If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings?  And how do you rate books/media?