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.