You don’t need to be a professional writer to use these, but they will make your writing better. If you’re in school, they’ll get you better grades and if you need to write a report for work, they’ll help you there, too. Let’s just cut to the chase. These writing tools come in no particular order.
This tool is probably cliche, but it helps more than you think. I’m not a grammar cop on these blog posts because they’re meant to be informal and strict policing here would be a poor use of time. In a professional setting, though, you can’t afford to play it fast and loose.
The good thing about Grammarly isn’t just that it corrects hard-to-find grammatical mistakes such as semicolon placement. This tool can also help you clarify your work. It catches obscure sentences, unnecessary words, and passive voices to make your content flow better, putting your words in plainer English. In effect, Grammarly can do a lot of your business writing for you. I’m not a fan of dependence on technology, and you can’t expect it to take care of all your business writing needs. If you’re writing fiction, Grammarly can often make suggestions that makes your story worse, so I’ve often found myself ignoring them in that particular context. Nevertheless, Grammarly helps a lot, especially when you’re strapped for time.
There is a free and paid version. Try the free one here.
#2 The Flesch-Kincaid calculator
The Flesch-Kincaid score is one which shows you how easy your writing is to understand. The higher your score, the easier your writing is for a broader audience to absorb. This is important. The most popular writers usually have scores of 60 or above, with a note of “plain English” and writing that can be understood by a seventh or eighth grader. For example, George Orwell’s 1984 has a reading grade level of about 8.9., putting it between 60 and 70 on the scale. The average in the Harry Potter series is about 73, or at a 7th grade level. The Lord of the Rings is probably written at an 8th grade level.
As for me? The Fall of the Fated Queen, the initial draft of which I just finished, probably scores roughly 65 on the scale, or about an 8th grade level. Given that the story is in the broad science fiction genre, which means that I need to explain sometimes complicated technology and do a lot of worldbuilding, this is an accomplishment I’m correctly proud of.
You can look at the rough drafts of each chapter by signing up for my Patreon page here.
Before you get too deeply into trying to get a high score, though, just understand that all writing will come in a specific genre and have a target audience in mind. If you need to write about complicated concepts, you shouldn’t expect a sixth grade score. For example, another of the stories I’m planning to do this year involves nuclear fusion energy, neutrinos, and advanced AI as plot devices. Although I plan to do this as a comic, I know that if I tried to adequately explain these concepts in prose form, it would be impossible to expect a score in the 70s.
Don’t rely on an equation to do your writing for you. The final product might be simple, but it will not get your point across if you do.
What the Flesch-Kincaid test can do, however, is help you to simplify the writing that you have already decided to create. My rule of thumb is that you should aim for the highest score possible consistent with the genre and target audience you have in mind.
Yes, that rule will mean you’ll need to put more effort in your writing, but true glory only comes through strenuous exertions, as Louis XIV would say. Fortunately, Grammarly’s clarifications will probably help you. An earlier article of mine here can too, as can George Orwell’s six guidelines:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
#3 Syllable Counters
The Fall of the Fated Queen marks my maturity as a writer in many ways. One of them is the poetry that sometimes occurs in its narrative. There are three such instances in the story and all three turned out better than I ever expected, good enough for publication. Poetry is something I always thought beyond me, but I wanted to try it because I thought it would add a lot to the title character if I could pull it off. It turns out that I could … I think, anyway. You will need to be the judge of that.
One of the reasons I was able to succeed in doing what I did was through careful counting of my syllables. While you can (and should) do that on your own, this syllable counter will help you too.
Counting your syllables has uses beyond poetry. It can help you to come up with good titles and subtitles for your work, which is the most important thing about it.
My rule of thumb is that for a headline or title, you should have as few syllables as needed for your reader to adequately envision and grasp your concept (which you should have put thought into before selecting a title). Once you do, minding your syllables and make a world of difference.
#4 Passive Voice Checker
The passive voice sucks. It exhausts the reader. The problem is that it sneaks up on you. The passive voice isn’t always easy to find. Grammarly can help a lot but even it misses the mark at times. So use this tool to back you up. Don’t be ashamed to use it liberally because it will save you a lot of time and tell you exactly what to correct.
Try not to have more than 10% of your given text in passive voice. Sometimes there are uses for it, as it can explain a concept or move your writing forward in less time than an active passage would require. Still, it’s much better to write with an active voice almost all of the time.
#5 Alliteration and Rhyme Generators
Alliteration and rhyming devices make your writing more persuasive. No less a figure than the “Godfather of Influence,” Robert Cialdini, said so in Pre-Suasion. This generation tool can help you to come up with alliterations and rhymes on the fly. Most of its suggestions will probably suck, but you’ll have a guide in front of you that can help you narrow in on the right choices. Again, you shouldn’t depend on this tool and I encourage you to think of alliterations and rhymes on your own, but it will save you a lot of time when you need it.
Whatever your audience, these tools should help you connect with them better. If you liked what you saw here, be sure to subscribe to my email list.
You can find the initial draft chapters of The Fall of the Fated Queen at my Patreon. Chpaters 1 and 2 are free here. The final two will come imminently. The full, completed manuscript will come after the beta reading phase. You’ll see more of that stuff in my 2023 agenda post.
And read Lives of the Luminaries if you haven’t already.