It’s Science Time, Bitches.

Standard

I actually change species for Science.

Maybe it’s the strong nerd bias in my thinking, but I have a soft spot for analytical tools. And I just found this one: The Writer’s Diet Test. Can’t remember how; I was surfing the internet looking for…something, and then this came up. It analyses the fitness level of your writing, from lean to heart attack territory. And it managed to catch me between moments of activity, so I thought: what the hell.

The results were…interesting. I chose random sections from my current and recent projects, and there was a definite trend. Any piece that I really liked—you know those pieces, the ones that you love even if you can’t put your finger on why—came back as ‘lean’. Every fucking one.

And the places where I felt I was struggling, the ones that were an uphill battle or that I just didn’t love, came back as ‘flabby’. No heart attack level ones, but still. Interesting.

So, being a nerd, I decided further testing was necessary. I have a short story in the drafting stage, one small edit short of being finished. Which means I still have all the old drafts instead of relegating them to the trash bin like I do when it’s completely done. So I ran a test: I took the first 500 words of each draft and ran it through, just to see what results I’d get.

Here’s the results from the zero draft, the one I scribbled down in a three-hour frenzy. Click for a bigger version:

This draft needs a personal trainer, stat.

Not hard to see why it’s a zero draft, huh? Flabby as fuck. It’s the word equivalent of a still-trembling slab of meat just cut from the cow: fresh but messy, bleeding everywhere and covered in fat.

Now here’s the results from the next draft:

Hey, look at me! Fitting into my college word-count!

Improvement. While I was doing it, I knew this draft was better, but I couldn’t have quantified the reasons. It just felt tighter. But still, room for improvement. Just like I knew that story would need another draft before it was done.

And this is the result from the nearly-finished final draft:

Sexy and I know it.

Lean and mean. That piece is a well-trimmed steak now, all the flavour, none of the gristle.

The conclusion? For me, for this story, ‘better’ really meant ‘leaner’. It might not be the same for all stories, but it’s clear that what I considered the better drafts adhered to the criteria laid out by this test.

Now, the Writer’s Diet tool is designed to work for academic prose, not fiction, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a valuable tool for those of us who make things up. Aside from the neat little graph, you can get a pdf of the complete analysis of your section. A lot of the criteria—limiting passive verb construction, avoiding long propositional phrases, getting rid of waste words—in that test should work for fiction as well, at least as far as constructing tight, clean sentences. The disclaimer section does mention that the test is a blunt instrument, and may not be indicative of overall writing excellence. But I still thought the results were worth noting.

Maybe it works best as a flag system. Using those rules will eliminate a lot of problems. But if there’s there’s a rule you want to break, hey, at least you’ll know you’re doing it. And why it’s so important.

7 thoughts on “It’s Science Time, Bitches.

  1. I love this too! After editing around a million words of other people’s prose, I’m a strict adherent of leaner is best in fiction. And there are graphs!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s