Analysis Tools For Writers

Over on the ALLi website you'll find an article where I talk about useful tools for writers. Here's a backup of the article. Oh, and critique groups can be another good way of getting feedback; and the obvious one of using a real editor. A tools to review in later articles: Expresso.

Intuition and human experience combine in successful writing and editing. However, just as chess software can analyse thousands of options per second, software can also analyse thousands of words quicker and more consistently than a human. We want our books to be as good as they can be, so the canny writer makes use of  whatever tools work for them to create a bibliographic arsenal.

  • First draft banged out while in the flow of the story: just make up details, leave errors in – it's best to keep going and stay within the fictional world for as long as possible.
  • Edit, rewrite, edit. Use software tools (next section) to help with the rewriting – they help me spot common errors I make, and fix them myself – issues such as word repetition, redundancy, consistency. And in that process I learn to avoid making those errors in the future.
  • Read the work aloud (at least the dialogue), or get software/Kindle to do it for me. Fix awkward phrasing.
  • Once it's all done I then run it past editors, beta readers, proofreaders, or whoever else provides the vital human input.
During a discussion with some other writers recently I found out that they didn't know writing analysis tools existed, so here’s a summary of the ones I’m aware of.


Free! Paste text into the box, choose which things you want it to report on (I tend to leave it on the defaults), and click "Edit". You'll get a summary analysis, then when you scroll down you'll see your text with some of the words highlighted – hover over them to find out why (the colours should match the summaries at the bottom right of the browser). The main things EditMinion points out are: adverbs to consider removing; weak words: homonyms; prepositions at the end of a sentence; passive voice; clichés.

Free! Select the sample text, delete it, paste in your own. The tool is live, immediately reporting on what you've pasted or typed. It will point out sentences which are complex and you might want to simplify; and like EditMinion, it will highlight passive voice and adverbs. A nice extra feature is a readability grade, and Hemingway App is also good for flagging up phrases with simpler alternatives.

As the name suggests, this is purely for consistency – it does not do the checks mentioned in the tools above, so is a useful addition rather than a replacement. Upload a document; download their report. It will flag up things like inconsistent spelling and hyphenation.

The full version requires an account and subscription fee. You can get an idea of what it does without paying, or even ask them to set you up with a free trial. AutoCrit will give you summaries and statistics about the work, a visual guide to sentence length, commonly used dialogue tags, how they think your work compares to published fiction on various metrics, passive voice indications, warnings of possible clichés, your most commonly used or repeated words and phrases, plus my personal favourite report: unnecessary filler words.

Another subscription tool, though not expensive – a lifetime subscription to ProWritingAid is only $120 (c. £83) which is less than a year's subscription to AutoCrit. Again, you can request a trial and get a good idea of what it does that way. It gives in-depth reports on over-used words, sentence length, grammar issues, vague or abstract words and so on.

A paid tool. This tool scrapes redundant words out, making suggestions for replacements, so you have shorter, tighter, clearer language use. Although not aimed primarily at fiction writers it has obvious uses. It's not cheap – the plugin for Word would be $129 (c. £89) a year, with reductions for subscribing for multiple years. That's quite a lot for a tool that only serves a single purpose. I like the fact that it ran in my word processor with its own tab, so no need to upload and analyse documents online, though installing WordRake was problematic on my PC. I only used about a quarter of the suggestions WordRake made, but they were good ones.

I haven't tried this but some writers are fans. Supposedly like an upgrade to Word’s grammar checker.

Tools are not a cure-all, and amongst the useful suggestions there will be many false positives. Tools are also not a replacement for the human touch. However, they invariably provide some useful insight. Why not try some of them out on your current or past works and see what they flag up? As indie authors it's easy for us to edit and upload improved versions of our books at any time.

  • If the tool is a paid one, think about possible usage patterns. For example, because of the cost of AutoCrit I don’t plan on having a permanent subscription, but whenever I finish a new book I’ll probably subscribe for a month and run my text through it. That’s the most cost-effective way for me.
  • Make use of the free trials that are available, and see if they make any suggestions on your work that are useful. We learn from many sources as we grow as writers.
  • Over time I’d predict that these tools would find fewer errors in your work, since you'd have learnt from issues flagged up in the past. Another reason to think about usage patterns when considering a subscription – as years go by you might find less and less use for some of these if you are a reflective writer.
  • Even the free triaIs were useful: I made a note of repeated errors on my part in my revision checklist document. I can then check for some of those myself in future without an external tool (or in conjunction with CTRL-F in Word).
  • When signing up for trials, I rarely give a company my email address. The only reason they would require one is to spam you, so in those cases I recommend using something like Guerrilla Mail or 10 Minute Mail (and just use a fake name if the site requests one - people are entitled to their privacy). There are hundreds of temporary email address sites you can use for free.

Interview With Karl On Jane Davis' Website

Today I've been featured on Jane Davis' website: an interview with me and a chance for freebies. Feel free to go there and ask questions (and make me look popular!)

This is a backup of the interview.

Mar 29
Virtual Book Club: Karl Drinkwater

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Karl Drinkwater to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about the books they would like to persuade your book club to read. If you want to pose a question, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end. There is also a fantastic giveaway, so don’t forget to enter!
Karl is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for over fifteen years, ever since he went there to do a Master’s degree: it was easier to stay than to catch a train back. His longest career was in librarianship (twenty-five years); his shortest was industrial welding (one week).
He started writing stories when he was nine, and hasn’t stopped. His writing sometimes spends time in the sunlit patches of literary fiction, where it likes to picnic beneath an old oak tree, accompanied by a bottle of wine, some cake, and soul-searching peace. At other times his words slope off into the dark and tense shadows of horror fiction, and if you follow them you might hear chains rattling behind locked doors and the paranoid screams of the lost echoing in the distance. There is no obligation to enjoy both of those avenues. His aim is to tell a good story, regardless of genre, but it always comes down to life, death, and connection.
When he isn’t writing or editing he loves exercise, computer games, board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, and zombies; not necessarily in that order.

Q: Karl, perhaps you can start by telling us how you came to be a writer.

I grew up in Manchester, a place I love and hate. My father died when I was a child and we moved around a lot. New schools, new houses. I found it hard to keep making new friends so retreated into books and fell in love with story-telling. There were other worlds I could visit as I read at the top of the weeping willow, or underneath my bed by torchlight. Then I discovered that I could make my own worlds too and began writing stories and poems, often quite dark juvenilia. They were published in school magazines and that made me happy.
With the exception of English, where I always got top marks, I was a rebellious and problematic child, unhappy and worried about my family. I experienced my first bouts of depression, a mental state that has been my occasional companion in life. Then I went to a further education college and it turned my life around. I learned to love studying – not because I was told to, and punished if I didn’t, but because I wanted to learn. I studied extra subjects and went to night school too, despite it meaning I was sometimes in college for twelve hours. I became the first person in my family to go to university and eventually got first class honours in English and Classics (specialising in Ancient Greek language).
I moved to Wales, achieved an MSc in Information Studies, and became a university librarian.
All this time I kept writing. And every year I would look back on my older work and see its flaws, learn from them, and continue writing new stories. Around ten years ago I wrote my first novel in lunchtimes while working full time, the only way I could fit it in around all my other commitments. I now have three novels to my name and have left the library job (after twenty-five years) to immerse myself in what I love: writing.
Karl as librarian

Q: What is it about writing that means you’d leave a steady job?

Writing is something I have to do. It’s a compulsion, a desire, a way of communicating, of getting things out of myself, of trying to create something of value to other people. That drive keeps me going on days when the words don’t flow.

Q: What kind of thing do you write?

I do what authors are told not to do – switch between genres. Some of my work is literary/contemporary, stories about life, death, love and relationships. Other stories are horror. Yet I see the difference as just being one of tone. The elements I focus on are the same. Your best writing will always be writing you love and stories you feel compelled to tell. Regardless of what niche a particular work falls into my aim is always to tell a good story.
2000 Tunes cover

Q: The novel we’re going to focus on today is 2000 Tunes, and it’s a literary/contemporary novel- which is how I describe my own fiction. Where is your book set and how did you decide on its setting?

It’s set in Manchester, and a key subplot is about the two protagonists coming to realise that Manchester isn’t the place they once thought it was. Sometimes reality pushes through the dreams and you decide it is time to move on, an obvious metaphor for growing up. The other element of the setting is that it’s based in the year 2000. A time when people thought the world might suddenly change for the better. We all know how that worked out. But it’s an interesting liminal time, totally appropriate for a coming of age story about a music-obsessed Manchester man and an over-indulging Welsh woman choosing reality over the dream.
2000 Tunes is a partner to my previous novel, Cold Fusion 2000, which was also set in Manchester in 2000. The two novels have similar themes, crossover locations, and nerdy male characters with their own obsessions (Cold Fusion 2000’s Alex was an über-geek FE lecturer obsessed with physics and poetry). I think these two novels were getting something out of my system, purging me of my mixed feelings about the place where I grew up.

Q: Tell us a little about the major areas you had to research.

Location, location, location. Since both novels were set in a very real place I wanted to reflect that, and show how the geography of an area affects our perception of it. The difficulty was that the city centre had changed a lot in the last fifteen years. Many of the places in the novel have already been lost, renamed, altered or closed. 2000 Tunes opens outside The Haçienda, one of the world’s most famous nightclubs: just before it was demolished for luxury flats. I had to combine my memories of the city at the time with archival photos and discussions; my diaries were useful too. I built the city back up as it used to be and then let the characters breathe into that space.

Q: Do you feel under pressure to make your main characters likeable?

That’s an interesting question. I primarily try to write characters that are believable. That means they have to be flawed in some ways. But the flaws can’t be so repugnant that the reader loses sympathy; and if a story is a journey then they have to change during that journey. I remember one reviewer saying they hated Alex (the protagonist of Cold Fusion 2000) at the start of the novel – Alex is a self-obsessed, pretentious nerd who is unable to communicate with anyone properly (it was an irresistible irony for me to make him a teacher). Yet by the end they understood him and felt sympathy, even if he never became fully likeable. It’s that mix of qualities that makes someone believable. Samantha (the Welsh woman from 2000 Tunes) makes bad choices and is prone to addictive behaviours, but no-one can say she doesn’t have heart and spirit. Even in my first novel, the survival horror Turner, the main character has that mix – some selfishness, anger and a foul mouth that repels people; yet also the strength to defend others and the willingness to risk himself to do it. Even anti-heroes have to be likeable in some way, or the reader will turn off.

Q: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?

Favourite: being at home with the cat, then becoming lost in a story or scene; the rare occasions where it comes to you so vividly that you are really there.
Least favourite: rewriting. There is none of the excitement of discovery of a new work; none of the near-completion feeling that comes with final edits. It is entering the Bog Of Eternal Trudging, unaware of when you will emerge.
When I wrote my first novel I decided the end result wasn’t quite good enough so I put it aside. I came back to it years later and entirely re-wrote it (even switching from first person to third person). Although I had really wanted to give up and move on, I knew I would learn more by fixing something that wasn’t working. Every element was inter-connected: altering a character meant adjusting the plot; removing a scene meant adding foreshadowing elsewhere. After separating the engine’s parts and reconnecting them – and replacing and polishing and refining – I learnt a huge amount, including how to avoid making those mistakes again in the future, and how to cut words without regret! But was it fun? Generally not.

Q: That’s really interesting. I have done exactly the same with one of my novels. There is no simple change. Each one has to be carefully woven through to see what impact it has on the rest.

Cold Fusion 2000 cover

Can I ask, what are you working on at the moment?

A few collections of short stories. Over the years I’ve written a lot of shorter works, sometimes published, sometimes just lurking on my hard drive where they breed at a prolific rate in the gap between folders. In 2015 one of my pieces was included in an anthology of UK short stories, Secondary Character. The anthology was a great way of bringing writers with various styles and interests together, but illustrating that we all had the same goal – to communicate something to our readers. Different paths to the same place. It also reminded me that people do love short stories, which can offer great variety between two covers, a kind of snack between meals.
The other factor in my decisions to put my new novels on hold was NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I took part for the first time in 2015, and although it was tremendously hard work I succeeded in writing over 50,000 words in November. It involved dedication, endurance, and late nights, but the sheer pleasure and excitement chased away tiredness. The intensity generated new ideas, the pressure pushed me to work harder. I’m currently editing the stories, then they’ll go on to beta-readers, then my literary editor and proofreader. If all the feedback is good they’ll be available this year.

Q: So when is a short story too long?

Like any work, if it has unnecessary padding, it is too long. The end goal is to be read, and for our readers to gain something positive from the experience. The tighter you wring it, the leaner it is, the more that lovely muscle tone shows through.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?

I’m learning to play the guitar, and most weekends get together with friends for a drink and to play music. One plays drums, one sings, two share bass duty. Our band is called Organic Apocalypse and I’m hoping we’ll do our first live performance this year.
I also like exercise, running, bits of yoga. I play computer games and board games. I read all the time. I did pole dancing for a while but decided that I didn’t look respectable enough in hot pants. I spend a lot of time worrying about the world, the environment, population, wildlife, and how humans should be treating the planet where we’re guests. That may make me a typical vegan.

Karl running

Q: Names in a hat. Karl, you’ve very kindly provided some fantastic prizes for a giveaway.

  • 1 x music prize – since 2000 Tunes is about a Manchester music obsessive the prize is connected to his favourite bands: Ian Brown’s Unfinished Monkey Business (CD); The Stone Roses Second Coming (CD). (UK entrants only)
  • 1 x print copy of 2000 Tunes to one winner (UK only)
  • 1 x print copy of Cold Fusion 2000 to another winner (UK only)
  • 2 x e-books pairs of 2000 Tunes AND Cold Fusion 2000 (international)
All readers need do is leave a comment. Rather than first first served, I think everyone should have a chance at winning, so we’re going to put the names in a hat and have a grand draw. The winners will be notified by email.

Q: Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My blog is the primary place where I chat and muse (editor’s note: this is also where you’ll find links to buy the books). I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter  and Goodreads, and welcome contact from my readers in whichever medium they use.

My Website Gets A Lick Of Paint!

As you can see, I've spent this afternoon tarting up my website. I felt it was getting too cluttered, and wanted to create a clean feel to it whilst being able to highlight my most recent books. I'm pleased with the result. Even the drop-down menus at the top work better than before. As such I have deleted many of the old widgets, including this one: "Works I've Contributed To". I thought I'd save it in a post for posterity!


Hello Phone

One of my new stories involves instant messaging with various people and ... something else. I love playing with new tools and this was a test to see if I could create images that would go in the print and e-book: looks like I can!

Flash Fiction Attempt

I suppose you can add your own backstory to that one.

Who Am I?

Lots of new readers recently. Hello! Hopefully you're here because of my writing, not because Google broke and redirected all searches for cheap Viagra to this URL. (If you've come here for that I apologise, I only sell books. Links at the top).

I have the usual bio page, which has a brief introduction. Recently I applied for a writing mentorship programme. I wasn't successful this time: unprecedented number of entries, high quality of applicants, yada yada yoda, which is okay - you win some, you lose postage stamps. As part of the submission I had to tailor a biography and also a "personal statement". I hate those things. Everything on my blog is a personal statement, and I like my blog, but in this case it tends to mean you have to really sell yourself as if the evaluators are your pimps and you're weaving words seductively wearing a tight black miniskirt. (If you've come here for that I apologise, I'm more likely to be wearing trousers. Though for the right patron I might shake it like a dog). Anyway, I spent time writing that flippin' thing so I'll paste it in here as a way of saying howdy doody to new friends and maybe providing a new insight for my existing friends.


Celebrate Good Times, Come On! (Let's Celebrate)

This blog has now had over 100,000 views! I'm so pleased. One day I might also have 100,000 reviews for my books (ideally mostly good ones). This is what some of my friends say.

"It's only metrics, digital counters ticking over. And rounded numbers are arbitrary, anyway."
Alex Kavanagh

"The Smiths used way more than 1000 different words just in their first albums. And they'd have more hits than that if they were still together. Oh, I'm miserable now, see what you've done, mate?" 
 Mark Hopton

"Llongyfarchiadau Karl, really pleased for you, I am! And no, I still won't go on a date, you cheeky bloody beggar."
Samantha Rees

"I told you not to ring me on this number unless it's an emergency, or you've started the sequel to Turner, you fuckwit. Where's me royalties?" 
Chris Turner

I love 'em all.

Here's a bonus to celebrate - a chart showing visits to the blog over time, and key events in my writing. Thank you to all my visitors, readers, fans, reviewers, critics, friends, and demonic other-worldly entities.


Book Blurb For They Move Below

Book blurb for They Move Below, draft 1. Does this work for you? Improvements? Feel free to comment below!


Horror is everywhere that shadows exist. Underneath the surface of the earth in ancient caves; below the undulating waves of the vast sea; under the cover of thick forest; beneath the thick, rolling clouds during a storm; downstairs in our homes, when we hear the knife drawer rattle in the night. Even our minds and bodies harbour the alien under the skin, the childhood nightmares in our subconscious.

In this collection of 16 tales of horror Karl Drinkwater sews flesh onto the bones of our worst fears whilst revisiting some of horror’s classic settings, such as the teen party, the boat in trouble, the thing in the cellar, the haunted museum, the ghost in the machine, and the urban legends that come true. No-one is safe from the creeping, growing menace. Darkness goes on and on. It hides things, no matter how much we strain our eyes. And sometimes those things are looking back at us.


St David's Day Bookfest - My Contributions

Last night Helen Treharne celebrated the publication of Book 2 in her Sophie Morgan Vampire Series. Death in the Family is set in Cardiff and the fictional town of Bethel. As 1st March was St David's Day - THE day for celebrating all things Welsh - she was joined at her online event by other authors and writers with Welsh connections. As you can see from the evening's timetable above, I was one of them, and hosted the event for an hour. Lots of authors and readers, with fun goings on and chatting throughout the evening. 

St David's Day is one of the few events I celebrate, probably because St David was a vegan like me. As training I got my leek freak on during the day and drank lots of water to tune in to St David's spirit (which is totally appropriate with my surname).


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