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  • Writer's pictureBill

Quarantine and Writing Apps

A few lapses in my posting output you may (I hope) have noticed. It’s because I flew to SF from TLV walking through nearly empty airports and sitting in quarter full airplanes for the 13 hour flight, (if direct). One was. Now back in Israel, and sleeping and working, if you call this working (I hope you do) in a 90 sq ft office in our apartment and having food delivered to my study door or eating al fresco with my wife on our small deck (see below). It’s day six of a fourteen-day quarantine for anyone returning from the steaming viral mania and politics of the US (mirrored by Israel). You can see I’m already a little buggy with the rampant overuse of () and confusing them with commas, poor things.

What’s all this got to do with the story of a new novel? I’ve been playing (a less serious word than examining) with two writing apps that have collected much interest (and some paying customers). The first is ProWritingAid. It’s a harder working app than Grammarly. PWA purports to judge not just grammar, but style and a bunch of other stuff, like use of sticky words.

You can paste your prose into the app and it produces a bunch of reports, So here goes with the first paragraph… Aha! Six pages of feedback. Some of you eagle-eyed readers will appreciate that it doesn’t catch everything, Here’s some of the analysis.

Overall score was 68%. Grammar and Spelling 38% (al fresco = alfresco, and somehow PWA didn’t think sticking (I hope) between may and have was kosher). Style (all I really care about) was 100%. Overall a ninth-grade reading level. My vocabulary was more dynamic than 88%of PWA users! PWA said I overused see, saw. I had three vague or abstract words: a little, already, and output. But, (woe) my glue index was 40.4%, though still better than 66% of PWA users, though the PWA target was<40%. Paradoxically with all that glue, there were no sticky sentences. The sticky and glue terminology is new to me, but useful. Simply put, glue words are essential, but they’re not working words like nouns and active verbs. Too many glue words can clog a sentence. Here’s a website that provides a good description and examples.

You get it. Useful, though it’s a tedious wonky teacher marking up your ms. Maybe okay for a few key suggestions, and, YES, some praise. Or it’s like putting some tissue under a microscope. Much of what you see is normal or passable. Some fields may be worth a second look, and occasionally one finds some real pathology. I bought PWA and use it when I remember I bought it.

Plottr is the other app I’m playing with. I like it more than the other novel writing apps I’ve looked at. It’s an outlining, organizing, and teaching tool. It in no way replaces Word or Scrivener but is a supplement. Available are the expected various templates: for example, romance, thriller, detective, hero’s journey. The one I like the most is Hauge’s detailing of the classic three act structure, which is the frame that three independent developmental editors I know and Weiland’s book, Structuring Your Novel, recommend for mainstream novels. Hauge’s advantage over several other outline templates is the use of parallel timelines for the overall plot, and also for the arcs of characters other than the protagonist. It details elements within the three act structure, I’m still messing around with the free trial of the app. It tracks the implicit or emotional arc of characters as well as the explicit events of the novel. A bit of a learning curve.

I know I know, Chabon would weep (but he uses Scrivener).

Prices? PWA is $79/year and Plottr is 25-37/year.

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