In a fit of pique, and to avoid further writing, I checked my manuscript in Word for readability statistics. To get there, you must set it up first. This is done by selecting file > options > proofing and clicking the box for “show readability statistics.” Run a spell check, and once you’re done hacking through your passive sentences, it’ll spit out result.
- First impressions: My characters all speak in sentence fragments. I’d like to think that’s how everyone actually speaks. I may be off. Does the dialogue seem stilted or odd? Or does it sound natural and flowy?
- Second: It hates the colloquialisms.
Screw it, we gotta go.
It didn’t like “gotta,” and flagged it as a non-standard word, like ain’t, irregardless, and alright. “…these words are always incorrect in written text.”Hey marines! Word says you’re a bunch of fragment using non-standard word lovers.
“Tell Word to go shove it,” said Yuen. “It’s not as if we’re speaking English in a thousand years. Microsoft will be extinct. Or run the government. Just don’t bring back clippy or I’ll shoot the little ********.”
Right, then, now that we have that conflict out of the way…
Another colloquialism it caught and flagged:
It’s not a good idea to send the most junior member of the squad out alone.
Sure, that’s a fine sentence, except that the dialogue points out that “certain adjectives cannot be modified.” Meaning that “perfect” is not modifiable. It cannot be made more perfect. Good point, Word. I’ll take it. Most is deleted. He’s the junior member of the squad.
Another phrase for in the worst way?
- Third: Contractions. It hates my contractions. However, contractions are the way people speak.
- Fourth: Passive voice. I am slowly rooting that out. Word is very useful in finding the problems. Much of it is coming out of Yuen’s thoughts and conversation. Do I firm up her thoughts to be less passive? Or does passive voice reflect the character’s choices (unsure, unable to plan, uncertain)?I’m going to run with eliminating it altogether. Even from the thoughts. It helps readability, hey?
It hates, “They were sacked.” I flipped it around. “We sacked them.” How active!
- Fifth: It thinks impacted is jargon. In business it is. Here, it describes the action of the shuttle and the ground. Thus, the suggestions of “the shuttle influenced the ground” may not have the same, ahem, impact. Er, affect.
- Sixth: It hates my cliches. In a nutshell. What’s another good phrase for that?
- Seventh: Simplify. I have this word construction in
She found the tool and snatched it from the compartment and retreated from the fiery shuttle.
Word says to replace the extra ands with commas. It’s right on. The end result is:She found the tool, snatched it from the compartment, and retreated from the fiery shuttle.
- Eighth: It wants me to use gender neutral expressions. Crew Members instead of Crewmen. I’ll consider it… done. I’ll change it. Person instead of guy. Nope, he’s a guy. I’m not changing that one. I do have a disturbing high usage of guy, and may seek alternate expressions.
- Ninth: Comma splice. I’ve got ’em. Three, so far. Two of them I added conjunctions, and one I changed to a period.
- Tenth: Half and any word it modifies is hyphenated. So, half-day.
That was depressing. Results:
Sentences per paragraph: 3.0.
Words per sentence: 9.5.
Characters per word: 4.5.
Passive Sentences: 0% (Yay!)
Flesch Reading Ease: 74.8%
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.1
It says I write for a 11 year old?! Harrumph. I looked up what the reading ease and grade level scales are based upon. Wikipedia says:
In the Flesch Reading Ease test, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read; lower numbers mark passages that are more difficult to read.
That seems about right – chewing gum for the mind, but not literary high falootin’ multi-syllabic words everywhere.
And that grade level? Hmmm. Says Wikipedia:
“These readability tests are used extensively in the field of education. The “Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level Formula” instead presents a score as a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts. It can also mean the number of years of education generally required to understand this text, relevant when the formula results in a number greater than 10.
Do I need to ramp up my literary score by substituting fancy words in place of those simple understandable words?