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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Autocrit review

I'm a sucker for online writing help. I'm also a sucker for applications based on statistical analyses of published works. Most tend to be disappointing, but now and then a gem comes along. Autocrit is one of those gems. Its power comes from a statistical analysis of published literature that produces limits for words that are considered overused. "Was" is one such word. Obviously you can't write without it, but weak writing has too much of it. How much is too much? The simple answer is it's too much if it exceeds what is typically found in published works, publication being the standard for excellence. The folks behind Autocrit found the average usage for each of the overused words and used that to set limits of how much would be acceptable.

Hee is my review of Autocrit as it appears in the Brazos Writers Newsletter.

Once in a great while, an elegantly simple application comes along that has the potential to transform your writing. Autocrit ( is one such application. It is the personal editor, writing partner, and critique group that catches every flaw and unabashedly displays it.

Autocrit is intended for fiction writers of all genres. To use it, go to the web site, paste your text into the window, and choose an analysis. Almost instantly, Autocrit returns a report.

My first experience was humbling. I entered part of a novel I'd revised through nine drafts until the writing was so tight it squeaked at every page turn. Or so I thought. Autocrit checked my text against a list of commonly overused words and reported that, on most of them, I'd exceeded the limits (actually an average) for published fiction. Next Autocrit highlighted the overused words in red. My chapter looked like it sprouted measles.

What Autocrit offers are guidelines. The transformation occurs when you decide what to do about the flaws Autocrit spots. Weak words don't exist in isolation; they hide in weak sentences and weak paragraphs. After running my 90.000 word flabalooza through Autocrit, I had a buffed-down 76,000 word tome.

Autocrit's most useful feature, the analysis of overused words, is free. Free users, however, are limited to a small word count, fewer functions, and 10 submissions per day. For a big revising project, an annual subscription is well worth the $24.95. Now, nothing leaves my desktop without passing through Autocrit.