Software review: “Editor” by Serenity Software

I’m working with a piece of software that might be of interest to those who self-publish. It’s got the catchy name of “Editor”, a product of Serenity Software. (I bought it retail and have no sort of relationship with the company.) I’m using it to go over my novel. So far, I like it. PC World gave it four out of five stars. Since I’ve started using it, it’s pointed out some mushy text that benefited from being changed.

The software scans the text for the following (click the image to enlarge it):

Editor - usage

Notice that this goes well beyond the spelling and grammar check that’s part of MS Word. Fortunately, I haven’t yet had any of my prose flagged for “pretentious term”, but I have gotten flagged for weak constructions such as starting a sentence with “It was…”

Editor scans the prose, numbering each sentence. It then checks each sentence for potentially incorrect, odd or clumsy constructions, punctuations, spellings, etc. The basic version of the software then gives you an output listing each sentence in which it found a potential problem.

This is the first part of the output for Editor’s scan of my book, “Verbosity’s Vengeance”. It’s telling me what it sees as potential problems with sentences 49 through 219. To fix these, I scroll through the amended OUTPUT version of my file, looking at the sentence numbers it’s inserted. Here’s what the analysis output looks like:

FIX

      –finds many mechanical errors and lists words and phrases
      that are often incorrect in novice writers’ work.

  <49> [sentence structure]
         MISSING COMMA? SENTENCE FRAGMENT? [x]
  <52> onto – the
         INCORRECT DASH OR HYPHEN [f]
  <58> eloquence… you
         INCORRECT ELLIPSIS; too few or too many spaces or periods? [e]
  <62> “- struggle
         INCORRECT DASH OR HYPHEN [f]
  <62> which
         GRAMMATICAL ERROR; use “that” or insert leading comma [G]
  <62> use – entirely
         INCORRECT DASH OR HYPHEN [f]
  <62> you – as
         INCORRECT DASH OR HYPHEN [f]
 < > [in paragraph ending with sentence 65]
         QUOTATION EXCEEDS FORTY WORDS [Q]
  <69> is me
         POSSIBLE GRAMMATICAL ERROR: in formal English, “is I” [I] [G]
  <81> There are
         POSSIBLE POOR USAGE; often a weak beginning; rewrite? [U]
 <127> Full stop
         POSSIBLE BRITISH SPELLING OR USAGE; (if punctuation) period(s) [B]
 <154> had of
         PROBABLE GRAMMATICAL ERROR; omit “of”? [G]
 <154> was him
         POSSIBLE GRAMMATICAL ERROR; in formal English, “was he” [I] [G]
 <155> It was
         POSSIBLE POOR USAGE; often a weak beginning; rewrite? [U]
 <159> lever – a
         INCORRECT DASH OR HYPHEN [f]
 <159> retort – he
         INCORRECT DASH OR HYPHEN [f]
 <167> ?!
         EXCESSIVE PUNCTUATION [p]
 <176> maintaining . . . escaped
         GRAMMATICAL ERROR; dangling or misplaced modifier? [G]
 <177> [sentence structure]
         MISSING COMMA? SENTENCE FRAGMENT? [x]
 <177> ..
         INCORRECT ELLIPSIS; too few or too many spaces or periods? [e]
 <182> It was
         POSSIBLE POOR USAGE; often a weak beginning; rewrite? [U]
 <198> free – I’m
         INCORRECT DASH OR HYPHEN [f]
<  > [in paragraph ending with sentence 209]
         QUOTATION EXCEEDS FORTY WORDS [Q]
 <219> more pain-suppression
         AGREEMENT FAILURE [A]
<  > [in paragraph ending with sentence 250]
         QUOTATION EXCEEDS FORTY WORDS [Q]

How about that? There’s a grammatical mistake in sentence 69.

Note that I considered this book finished enough that I’ve been querying it to agents for months, yet in the first five minutes, I’ve gotten three dozen relatively subtle suggestions for improvement. These are things that I missed, that my beta readers missed, that my test reader missed and that MS Word missed.

Another form of analysis within Editor offers stylistic suggestions. Here are some potential issues with sentences 2171 through 2186:

<2171> I’ve
         CONTRACTION [k]
 <2174> man
         COMMONLY MISUSED TERM: do you mean “humanity”? [M]
 <2176> I’ll
         CONTRACTION [k]
 <2182> toast
         SLANG EXPRESSION if you mean “finished” or “done for” [O] [L]
 <2183> great
         POSSIBLE EMPTY INTENSIFIER [E]
 <2184> if
         COMMONLY MISUSED TERM; rule of thumb: if “whether” fits, use it [M]
 <2184> hasn’t
         CONTRACTION [k]
 <2184> lifestyle
         JARGON TERM OR BUZZWORD; way(s) of life? [J]
 <2186> you’ve
         CONTRACTION [k]

So I might have used the empty intensifier “great” in sentence 2183? That’s good to know.

Another part of the Editor software looks for word repetition patterns. Have you ever read a book where the author used the word “gleaming” twice in one sentence? Or repeated a phrase he or she apparently loved, like “her eyes flashed darkly”? Phrases like that can pop up only a couple of times in a book, but they stick in the reader’s mind. This software looks for all repetitions of all phrases up to 6 words, throughout the entire book. This is VERY useful for weeding out those scenes that got moved, but not completely deleted from the original location.

In another analysis mode, Editor numbers the paragraphs and tells you which words get repeated in each and how many times. Here is the analysis of paragraphs #965 through #974:

#965.  The miasmic fog projectors . . .
     Words in paragraph: 75
     Words used 3 or more times: of(4) to(4) he(3) in(3)

#966.  Around the ring of . . .
     Words in paragraph: 106
     Words used 3 or more times: of(4) to(4) he(3) it(3)
       mean(3) only(3) was(3)

#968.  The Grammarian’s eyes scanned . . .
     Words in paragraph: 141
     Words used 3 or more times: he(6) of(6) to(6) his(3)
       room(3) that(3) was(3)

#970.  Professor Verbosity hadn’t been . . .
     Words in paragraph: 66
     Words used 3 or more times: to(4) be(3)

#971.  He looked around for . . .
     Words in paragraph: 119
     Words used 3 or more times: of(5) from(4) he(4) in(4)
       been(3) floor(3) part(3)

#972.  He grimaced. Anyone… including . . .
     Words in paragraph: 74
     Words used 3 or more times: was(5) he(4) that(3)
       verbosity(3)

#973.  A thought formed in . . .
     Words in paragraph: 66
     Words used 3 or more times: himself(3) of(3) to(3)

#974.  The rest of the . . .
     Words in paragraph: 28
     Words used 3 or more times: of(4)

Repeating of, to, he, it, was, that, etc. might not be a problem, but I see that I also use the word “himself” three times in paragraph 973, which is relatively short at 66 words. Worth taking another look at?

The slightly more expensive version of this software comes with a plug-in for MS Word. It will analyze a .doc file on the fly, then walk you through it sentence by sentence. You can make the corrections on the spot, decide to ignore the suggestion or flag it for a later rewrite. I’ve only just started using Editor, but it has already shown me a number of ways my prose could be tightened, sharpened and cleaned up.

Is this software a substitute for a talented human content editor, copy editor and/or line editor? No. It assumes that you are already saying essentially what you want to say with your prose. It won’t tell you that the plot is too slow in the middle third or that your hero is an ass or that you spend too much time describing the food your characters are about to eat.

However, it is several important steps up from the spelling and grammar tools loaded into MS Word. The high end version of Editor is $75, a moderately significant chunk of change for an indie writer, but it’s much less than what you’d pay a decent copy editor to proofread your work.

Advertisements

19 thoughts on “Software review: “Editor” by Serenity Software

  1. I find these sort of tools helpful. I used to use one online (forget the name) and it had lots of suggestions. Now where did I put that link…

    • It’s nice to have this software on my desktop, instead of something online.

      I sent the output/analysis file to my Kindle and printed a copy of my WIP. Now, with pencil in hand, I’m marking up the copy.

  2. Each time I read this article, I’m more convinced I need to buy it because it would help me a lot! Perhaps when I get the next big project to a near-completed state. Hmm.

  3. Once you’ve had a chance to go through these, I would love to see some hard data. How many of the “possible grammatical errors” that Editor found were actually real grammatical errors? How many of the total list really pointed you to something that needed changing?

    The true test of software like this is how much it actually helps. If only half of its findings were useful, it wouldn’t be worth the money. But if, say, 1 in 6 suggestions or better were unhelpful, it might be worth the price.

    • You can download a free trial if you want to give it a spin. I believe you have some test documents you could use to really put it through its paces, right Andy?

      The company gives some comparisons with other grammar checkers: http://www.serenity-software.com/pages/comparisons.html .

      So far, I would say that the instances of weak sentence openings “It was… ” “There was…” “So,…” have been the thing it’s flagged most. My grammar is pretty good and I try not to use clichés, but it’s caught me in a few of those, too. Has it been worth the $75? I suspect that by the time I’m done, it will be.

      • Sorry. I am opposed on principle to using a computer to critique my writing. If those programs ever become self-aware, authors will start being terminated for dangling modifiers. Who wants that?

        • Editor doesn’t check for dangling modifiers: too difficult to catch using pattern-matching. Grammarly does look for them, and catches some simple ones. It’s the wordiness and redundancy checks that even good writers profit from. 🙂

      • A few minutes ago, I tried downloading a trial copy of v5.0, and Chrome popped up a warning the file might contain stuff malicious to my browser/computer. I stopped the download. Did you experience anything like that?

  4. That sounds like something worth having and at $75 even I could afford it. Think I might give the trial a go.

  5. Reblogged this on Hunter's Writing and commented:
    Interesting software. Reblogged post from Today’s Author

  6. Nice, but until it is compatible with 64-bit, can’t use it. I use AutoCrit online. Same price but you have to be online to use it. I’ll look forward to seeing if this software ups its game because I think it may do a wee bit more than AutoCrit.

    • You’re having trouble using it on a 64-bit system? Odd… I’m running it on a 64-bit Win7 machine without any trouble.

      Also, they do a direct head-to-head comparison with AutoCrit, ClearEdits, GrammarBase, GrammarCheck.net, Grammar Check Anywhere, Grammar Expert Plus, Grammarly, Grammar Slammer, PaperRater, Pro Writing Aid SpellCheckPlus, StyleWriter, WhiteSmoke, Word, and WordPerfect. This is with a variety of tests. The results were interesting.

      • I am running 64-bit Windows 8 and this seems to work fine. The trial installs and runs in WOW64 32-bit emulation. There’s no reason that should be a problem unless you are using a 64-bit version of Word, which cannot use 32-bit add-ins. There’s a full discussion of this on the trial page for Editor. I believe the standard version of Editor should be able to work with documents created by 64-bit word… just not the Word Add-in.

        I am not running 64-bit office apps at the moment because 64-bit office 2010 was a giant mess (I used to work at Microsoft so I heard all about it back then). I will probably switch to 64-bit office on my next upgrade though, so hopefully this application will be updated with full 64-bit capabilties by then.

  7. I found autocrit helpful but then I downloaded editor for a trial and it found a load of other stuff.
    I am a bit of a dunce with computers
    I have a 64 bit laptop and Windows 7 word and can’t seem to see where it says I am or am not compatable for the windows add on
    Anyone help?

  8. Thanks for this review. I decided to self publish and been struggling with edit decisions. A professional editor is just too expensive so I may give this a go. Thanks again!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s