A New Thing is making its way around the Interwebs, especially the Interwebs that I happen to patrol.
It is called Hemingway, located at hemingwayapp.com, a URL you should follow to behold its simple goodness.
The web app tries (and, in my admittedly limited experience, generally succeeds) to analyze text that you place in the box.
It looks for sentence clarity (based largely on length and how many clauses are present, I think), adverb use, passive voice, and unnecessary obfuscation. I mean, unclear terms.
The app also claims to gauge the approximate reading level of the text, indicating what level of education your potential eraser will probably need to comprehend what you wrote.
While reading level approximations are interesting and all, the useful part for me lies in the highlighting of words and phrases one ought to reconsider. I ran a chapter through the app today and it helped keep me on track with my purpose: to clarify any mumbly sentences and cut back on adverbs. My sentences can get a bit burdensome, and with the app highlighting probable suspect sentences, I was able to hone in on fixing the flow of the story without meandering around aimlessly.
Hemingway is by no means a perfect solution to editing. It takes a formulaic approach to the process, with no consideration of voice or what you were trying to accomplish with a certain phrase. (I hear this is what fleshy human editors are for, but I have yet to encounter one in the wild.)
But you don’t have to fix everything that it highlights, obviously, and the option to toggle which types of suspect words and phrases show up could be handy if, say, adverbs are unavoidable or intentional in your writing.
Another thing that helped is pasting small chunks into the Hemingway app to analyze, usually about a page at a time. This tightened my focus and helped mitigate the overwhelming number of flagged sentences when the entire chapter is placed under the microscope. (Plus, in my browser, the highlighted text starts to do a weird shift as you get further down the page, rendering it basically unreadable.)
I actually had a fair amount of fun running my chapter through the app. It became a sort of game, checking out the stats on my page of prose and then seeing how well I could reduce the problem areas. (If you want to gamify this app, just keep in mind that it’s like golf: the lower your score, the better.)
Because I am, at best, hyper paranoid about typing in a browser without assurances that my work is saved, I modified the text in a Google Drive document while glancing at highlighted text in Hemingway. Then I pasted the revised text on top of the original and watched the numbers wither with a certain amount of unnecessary glee.
Someday, I will be confident enough in my writing habits to venture forth into the world of editing without any handrails. At the moment, however, the Hemingway app presents a nice little guide to my initial attempts at clarifying my writing.
Now if only it gave plot suggestions…