Amusing Suggestions from ProWritingAid

Monday, January 20, 2020
There are several tools authors sometimes use to improve the quality of their writing before (or instead of) sending a book off to an editor. I regularly used a program called AutoCrit when writing my African Violet Club Mysteries. But then they significantly raised their prices, so I had to find an alternative. (They’ve recently added a Free Forever plan. I suppose there were a lot of authors like myself who just stopped using them at all.)

You’ve probably heard of Grammarly since they do a lot of advertising. I use the free version, but not generally on my novels. No, where I find Grammarly most useful is for error-checking online posts, which I usually make in a hurry and are prone to typos. But it isn’t totally reliable.

Two years ago, I subscribed to ProWritingAid, which has functions similar to AutoCrit, but a much lower price. I haven’t used it in a while, but decided I should put my new novels through it to find out what it flagged. Unfortunately, these were some of PWA’s suggestions:

What I wrote: His voice was clipped.
PWA critique: Passive verbs make your writing less direct. Try to use an active verb instead.
What PWA suggested: I clipped his voice.

What I wrote: She noticed there was something framed over the small tables
PWA critique: Readability may be enhanced by removing this
What PWA suggested: She noticed there was framed over the small tables

What I wrote: “But you were going to, weren’t you?”
PWA critique: Possible confused word
—> Too
PWA critique: Possible confused word
—> We’re
What PWA suggested: But you were going too, we’re you?

What I wrote: That made her feel a lot better.
PWA critique: Use a plural noun after a qualifier.
—> Wells
What PWA suggested: That made her feel a lot wells.

If you can read this blog, you’ve probably figured out those suggestions were horrible. It’s as if the software has been programmed with common grammatical errors, but no judgment. Now, artificial intelligence has made great strides over the past few years. I am sure a grammar-checking program could be made intelligent enough to know that “something” was a required word, maybe even suggest a more specific noun as an improvement. Perhaps that’s why AutoCrit started charging more: because they’d invested money in creating a more intelligent program.

But my point in writing this blog post is to point out that an author needs to have strong punctuation, usage, and grammar skills to start with. While the examples I quoted above are obviously bad suggestions, there were others that made me question what I had written. In some of those cases, I also turned out to be right. I know because anytime I have a question as to what is correct, I check The Chicago Manual of Style or Grammar Girl.

But I could see an author with less training in English usage making changes to something they’d written purely on the basis of what the program recommended. That might explain some of the atrocious errors I sometimes find in self-published books.

Unfortunately, sometimes I am wrong. I’ve typed in a homonym or used a comma when I didn’t need it. I know, hard to believe. (Not really.) ProWritingAid picks up enough genuine errors that I still feel the need to use it. But I’m not going to pay for a subscription now that it’s up for renewal. I think the free online tool will give me what I need. I’m also going to give the free version of AutoCrit a try. If one is a clear winner, I’ll let you know in a future blog.

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A Clash of Kings
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