Putting Grammarly Creative to the Test
This week we were debating the pros and cons of using computerised grammar checking software when writing fiction, over on the Facebook page of ALLIA, The Alliance of Independent Authors.
One traditionally published (and award-winning) author put the first three paragraphs of her professionally proofed and copy edited novel to the test and was not impressed. So, curious to see how I would fare I did the same for the opening section of Revolution Earth. Grammarly doesn’t like dialogue, apparently and the novelists who use it to check their work ignore anything the program suggests in relation to dialogue– unless it is to do with missed quotation marks. The excerpt, which you’ll find at the end of this post is purely descriptive, with no dialogue.
With the Grammarly setting on: ‘creative’ (there are five settings to choose, from ‘academic’ to ‘casual’ – whatever that is), Grammarly came up with 14 writing issues – including, wait for it, one of plagiarism! There were three for spelling, nine for grammar and one for punctuation within a sentence. But more worringly were the 48 ‘enhancement suggestions.’
I forgot to tell you that although I may be guilty of wonky syntax and confusing modifiers, (I’m a visual thinker and that’s why I chose film to tell my first published stories), my co-writer, with 10 non-fiction academic titles published by the likes of Macmillan and MIT Press, ought to know a thing or two about how to construct a decent sentence. And so too does our copy editor, the very thorough Mary McLaughlin of Little Red Pen who gave the first half of our manuscript a line edit.
Annoyingly, you can’t follow up Grammarly, unless you sign up to a free trial. And so, in the interests of finding out whether or not we had indeed been guilty of stealing another writer’s work, I signed up. Incidentally, this is rather a bold accusation – and not one to be taken lightly – but presumably, a computerised program that accuses you of copying another writer’s work can’t be challenged in court?
As far as fiction is concerned we were evenly split, with one group a fan of using Grammarly to check their work first, before it was sent off to a professional copy editor or proof reader. One novelist in the ‘pro’ camp remarked that she had been praised by her copy editor for her ‘clean copy’ and that she had been able to off-set the annual fee of US$149 /£94 (mid-market exchange rate today) for Grammarly in return for a reduced professional copy editing fee.
For those of us, rather more circumspect about using a computer to check grammar and spelling (and a US one at that) for our fiction, we did see that Grammarly could be useful for students in their academic writing, particularly if English is not their first language or if they are dyslexic.
Writing fiction is a painstaking business – it’s easy to do but difficult to do well and the hard bit, for me at least is the number of re-writes and the endless polishing of the prose, to make it shine. And this is where I do question the use of grammar checking software because, surely, the final polish stage is where you eliminate all the grammar nits? Despite the 14 issues, Revolution Earth did score 75 out of 100, which is a bit of a relief! But seriously, though, is Grammarly worth the £94 annual fee? What do you think?
Because I do a bit of proof-reading and copy editing, as well as write a blog, I am going to make the most of that free trial and test out Grammarly for non-fiction and will let you know how I go and will report back here.
The excerpt that was analysed by Grammarly:
Kakadu, Northern Territory, Australia
The sky is immense tungsten blue. It is his ocean and he floats like a diver in its depths. He feels this land where his people have stood for four hundred centuries, the winding of the river, the rising of the cliffs, the spirits that made it, the men who inherited it, the ancestors whose bones are the dust at his feet. Stamp. He makes his mark in the sand and knows that, like every other human artefact, it will disappear in the winds of time, the endless friction of world and air, evanescent as the sound of foot on ground. Stamp. But there is something new here. An unseasonable moisture. He looks down at the sudden mud under his feet. Carefully wiping the damp from his sole on a gnarly patch of grey-green grass, he moves away with long strides that roll his hips, a man who has walked many miles in his life and knows he has many more to travel.
Chapter 1 Love Lies Bleeding
Soho, London, Tuesday, 2.45pm
There’s a cadence to riding at speed that whirs with a logic that’s half human, half clockwork. A rhythm that comes from travelling the city hour upon hour, day upon day — over broken paving, potholes, and storm drains, the trainers pushing firm in the toe-straps, a wary familiarity with every venerable cobble that bumps its way up through the tarmac into the grimy sunshine of Soho. Up from the pitted streets stir physical memories of jarring and jouncing. You know how they say you never forget how to ride a bicycle? There’s more. Things you never realised you knew, like the best route to swing across from this loose paving stone to avoid that broken drain. Your body never forgets. When those feet press down one two one two, tendon-taut memories steer the bike. Hands on the handlebars, flick of the gears, the momentary judder of chain on cogs, skitter of speed, woman, bike, world.
She is at one with herself, the exhilaration of her blood and muscle, yet intensely aware of the ever-present danger of traffic and crowds. Bone, steel, and rubber, wrapped in the punch of music that hits the same beats as the pump of blood and the jab of the down thrust, a kind of meditation undertaken at 25 miles an hour down the cluttered streets. Between the parked cars and the randomly braking vans, with oblivious citizens stepping into the road, Jonie weaves through traffic like a movie extra threads through the jungle. To ride is to be, there in the moment, alert as a bird, a still point in a turning world.
Jonie hurtles through the chaos of Soho two blocks north of Shaftesbury Avenue with the poise of a bodhisattva raised on adrenalin and rock ’n’ roll. Sinuous tracks she makes in the permanently greasy surface of London roads disappear in her wake. Her eyes are sharp to what’s coming, to the Volkswagen rocking on its clutch on the corner, the midday hen party drunks teetering on white heels, the bald guy in the parked Mazda checking his wing mirror before he throws his door open, London caught for microseconds in perfect detail in the perfect here and now. What she doesn’t see is the black Mercedes-Benz GL500 SUV that rams into her hipbone and upper thigh, throws her to the ground, splits her plastic and polystyrene helmet open, flattens the side of her head on the grey tar.
The last of her energy spins the back wheel, slower and slower. The buckled front forks have jammed the front wheel against the brake pads she had been meaning to change at lunchtime. Deeper red than wine, sticky and heavy, her blood spreads a ruby pool into the colourless oily dust, gluing her tawny hair to the ground of which, scant seconds ago, she was the speeding queen.