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In Search of Writing Perfection

Rating A Game of Thrones

Recently I received an email from AutoCrit with a link to a surprising article. AutoCrit is an editing app for writers. I haven’t used it, as I wasn’t ready to edit when I signed up for their trial version, and the trial period has expired. Also, I had already purchased another program, and it seems very similar. But I digress.

The article was one of a series in which they run best-sellers and famous books through their app and score them on various criteria to see how they stack up against the “rules” and published fiction. This time, the book (actually, the series of books) they scored was George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

The overall score for this epic work was 79.9. The score in its specific genre was 84.34. Best-sellers are generally in the 75-85 range. A perfect score would be 100. Is it possible to achieve that? Is it even desirable?

Leave aside for the moment the correctness of comparing a work to published works. I dispute the underlying assumption, that one can gauge excellence by comparing to a melting-pot average. In that pool of published works, there are some excellent books and some so-so books. The mid-point on a bell curve doesn’t indicate excellence.

Is Perfection Attainable?

Of course every writer wants his work to be perfect (whatever that means). We edit to make it as good as we can, at this stage of our ability. As we learn and practice more of the craft, we get better at it, as in any field. Will we ever be perfect? Well, that depends on whose standard we choose to measure ourselves against.

The problem with an editing apps is, it uses algorithms that result in answers that don’t always make sense. In addition, it seeks to find deviation from what is, in essence, popular opinion. When it finds and flags an error, it may not be an error at all. But let’s give the app the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume everything it flags is an issue that needs to be addressed.

After a good deal of time and frustration, you deal with every flagged issue. Now your book or chapter or scene is perfect, right? Sadly, no. Changing what you wrote previously has now caused the app to find a whole new set of issues to correct. This could go on forever.

If you did a cost-benefit analysis on the process, you would see diminishing returns with each successive edit. You could spend a week improving your work from a rating of 84 to one of 85. Or you could spend a lifetime trying to get it to a rating of 100. That time could be better spent working on your next book.

How Good is Good Enough?

A few months ago at a workshop I attended, the participants discussed the quality of some self-published books they had read. The instructor made a comment to the effect that if the mistakes weren’t bad enough to make you quit reading, it was good enough. There is some truth in that.

Serious (and sometimes not so serious) mistakes can jar the reader out of the story for a minute. That’s why we try to make our work as good as we can. But I have read some imperfect books lately, where I noticed grammar mistakes, head-hopping, poor word choice, but the story or the characters or both were engaging enough that I kept reading. And apps can’t evaluate those crucial elements.

Finding Balance

Rather than chase perfection, I prefer to aim for an acceptable range. If the app gives my scene a score of 85 or above, I’m satisfied. Most of what could be changed are style choices, and who wants to write just like everyone else?

The one area where I won’t accept a score of less than 100 is grammar and spelling. Every item flagged is checked and either corrected or dismissed as an app error. (The app doesn’t recognize subjunctive mood, for instance.) This part of the app is crucial for me, as I make a lot of typos when I try to write fast. Unfortunately, my app (ProWritingAid) no longer works with WordPress, so I’m on my own here.

Getting back to scoring A Game of Thrones, what surprised me is that such a resounding success scored as low as it did. I found it gripping. I can’t imagine how a book that scored 100 would read. Perhaps something like a doctoral thesis, educational but dry.

If you would like to read the article, you can find it here. https://www.autocrit.com/blog/whats-the-score-a-game-of-thrones

What do you think?

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