Friday, January 15, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Readability Statistics

The game is afoot. Not a foot. Unless you're a podiatrist, why would you want to play with feet?

Enough slacking. I have some useful information to share with you today. But first, if you haven't seen Julie&Julia yet, it's a fantastic, even tasteful film . . . pun intended. For the writer at heart, it's a film that you will enjoy. It even helped me realize certain aspects of what blogging is about. I could do a better job at it. Like Julia, I can't help but wonder if anyone is reading me either. While this film is a boast-your-confidence type of movie, my confidence was shot after I went to sleep. I had a nightmare. My submission to Writers of the Future returned in the mail, mercilessly butchered. Even the manuscript was completely messed up, with one word per line for several pages. I did not send it in like that! I started to break things . . . in my dream, mind you. Well. Perhaps that dream is preparing me for the worst. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? They may say no, right? Like that's never happened to me before! :P

Now to the advice:
What exactly is your target audience? Children? Middle-Grade? Young Adult? Adult? Depending on the audience that you're writing for, your writing is going to have to appeal to them. Never mind the story, the plot, or the characters. Worry about your choice of words and the way you're using them. It doesn't make sense to write a middle-grade novel using words that only a doctor of English can understand.

For the moment, I'm using Word (I know. I should convert to Apple). Under Tools, click Options. Under Spelling and Grammar, at the bottom of Grammar, you will find an option to click on Show Readability Statistics. Click on it. From hence forth, after you spell check a document (chapter or whatever) you will be able to read a Passivity Percentage, Reading Ease percentage and Grade Level.

About Passivity. Avoiding passive sentences is critical to any writer. Was-ing generally creates passivity. Try not to write them. You will have a much stronger voice in your writing.

About Reading Ease. 100% is about the simplest sentence you can imagine. My name is Sam. The higher your percentage the better, but if your document is no less than 80%, you're on the right track for Young Adult and below. A percentage less than 80%? Either your sentences are oddly constructed or your choice of words appeal to a more affluent, college-level audience.

About Grade Level. Basically, if it tells you 4.5, that means people who are half way into their forth year of school and up will be able to read your work without much trouble.

Play with this and see what you come up with in your documents. If you really want to create a life of pain for yourself, highlight every single sentence and check to see if they are passive or not. I promise, if you do a check like this to your manuscript and change every passive sentence into an active one, you will hardly write a passive sentence ever again. It may just be worth it.

Keep up the good writing, fellow aspire-ers. We'll make it someday. Chick in next week for more updates and posts. See you all Monday.

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