Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Smart Edit Software Review

I purchased SmartEdit to help copy-edit my manuscript. I am pleased with it, and will touch on why. But it cannot replace a solid grounding in grammar rules, I discovered when reading a friend’s manuscript. She also used Smart Edit.
Here’s a screenshot of SmartEdit overlaid on your manuscript

It takes SmartEdit several minutes to go through all of the things it checks on your manuscript. When finished, it lists possible problems, giving you a snippet of each one. When clicked, it takes you to that place in the manuscript. Nothing is highlighted or changed. Snippet by snippet, the writer decides what to do with each problem, or possible problem. Here are the things it checks:
Adverbs: These are the pesky words that end in “ly,” that are especially deadly when used as part of a dialog tag. “I’m mad,” he shouted angrily. It also picks up many other overused words such as “really,” “only.” (Two of my pets.)
Repeated phrases: If I see that I’ve used “I don’t know” 100 times, it’s a problem. I’ve not only overused the phrase, but I have a totally clueless character who needs to get a clue or be seriously downgraded in importance. I found this in a YA manuscript written a good number of years ago by yours truly.
Repeated words: This tallies the number of times a particular word is repeated. It’s useful, but I have a better way of checking for this, which I will write about in another post. 
Possibly misused words: This tallies things like the misuse of accept/except; breath/breathe; illusion/allusion; advise/advice. The list is long, and if you’re prone to this type of error, SmartEdit is worth the cost for this alone.   
Clichés: If a character uses a cliché in dialogue, that’s one thing, but the narrative voice should not use clichés.  
Redundancies: SmartEdit found these in my manuscript: “empty space,” “fall down,” “reason why,” tiny bit.” 
Sentence openers: SmartEdit shows the number of times a sentence is opened with a particular word. This is useful if there are too many sentences on a page opening with the same word. 
Sentence length: SmartEdit creates a graph of the sentence lengths in the manuscript. I haven’t found this to be useful. 
Dialog tags: SmartEdit counts the number of times “said” is used, as well as every other dialog tag. There are times when the person speaking the dialog is obvious, so the word “said,” if present, should be removed. With all dialog tags listed, it also alerts you to other possible problems. On the YA manuscript I mentioned above, it tagged “thought,” “decided,” “wondered,” and “remembered.” These are all problems that need to be fixed for obvious reasons.
User defined: SmartEdit will also check for words or phrases that the writer wants it to zero in on. This works the same as everything else in SmartEdit, however I found this to be clunky when working with my personal list of weasel words, as I call them. I have a more streamlined way of checking for those, which I will discuss in a different post. 
SmartEdit also checks for proper nouns, acronyms, foreign words and phrases, profanity, AND it checks punctuation
On the punctuation side, SmartEdit checks for curly and straight quotes and apostrophes. Have you ever looked at your manuscript and noticed, every once in a while, a straight quote interspersed with the curly ones? It would take too long to explain why it happens, but SmartEdit finds them.  
Exclamation points: I’ve read that an average sized novel can employ one exclamation point. If you run SmartEdit and discover more than three, I suspect some deleting is in order.  
Em-dashes, en-dashes, and ellipses: SmartEdit finds these, but what it doesn’t tell you is that these constructions should also be used sparingly. Not as sparingly as exclamation points, but rarely, nonetheless. Or so I was told numerous times, from numerous judges, on contest entries. The characters in my friend’s manuscript use ellipses in about 50% of all dialogue. About 95% of that needs to be removed. Same goes for em-dashes and en-dashes, although she didn’t overuse them. I have been told by contest judges that I overuse them. (Or used to, before I knew better.)
SmartEdit will also find when there are two or more spaces between sentences. The use of a double space between sentences was dropped a decade or more ago, however we’re probably all guilty of adding an extra space every now and again, by accident. 
Comprehensive as SmartEdit is, here are places where it’s not helpful at all: 
Semicolons are never used in fiction. SmartEdit doesn’t catch them, and my friend used them liberally in her manuscript. It would be nice, too, if SmartEdit cautioned people on the overuse of ellipses, em-dashes and en-dashes, instead of simply tallying them. I suppose its creators assume an understanding that they’re not to be overused. 
Run-on sentences, or what is known as comma splices. SmartEdit doesn’t catch these, nor does Microsoft Word’s grammar checker. Run-on sentences occur when there are two independent clauses, which should be separated by a period. If they are separated by a comma, a conjunction must be used as well. My friend’s manuscript had way too many run-on sentences, which agents and editors see as a mark of an amateur, among other issues, which I will discuss in another post. 
Misplaced modifiers: SmartEdit won’t catch these. “Joanie and I run to the fence on high alert.” The sentence sounds as if the fence is on high alert. 
Gerunds: (verbs ending with “ing”): SmartEdit doesn’t catch these, which often make for clunky prose. “The child was dancing and laughing.” Removing the to-be verb (was) and the gerunds, the sentence reads, “The child danced and laughed.” [True, it’s a bald, uninteresting sentence, but the verbs are stronger. It’s a better base on which to build.]
User-defined words and phrases: I mentioned this above. While SmartEdit will catch them for you, I’ve found a better way to deal with them. Because writing about it would add a couple hundred words to this post, I will do that in a separate one, next week. I will also touch on some other important issues that SmartEdit doesn’t catch, which mark a work as amateurish.  
So that’s it for SmartEdit. It shouldn’t need to be said, but in case it does, while SmartEdit helps tremendously with copy edits, if you have story problems that would prevent a manuscript from being publishable, SmartEdit can do absolutely nothing to remedy that. You need a human being who specializes in developmental edits for that. 
Have you tried editing software? Which one do you use? What have you discovered about it? Strengths? Weaknesses? Is it very similar to SmartEdit? 
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