"Small" writing challenges for my small writing talent. Hotel note pads are the only space allowed. Let's see if I can strip it down and tighten it up to learn something. Improving my skill of weird fiction.
I have used Grammarly’s free version for about the last twelve months. I first discovered their commercial during a bout of television, and my first thoughts? How is this not cheating for college kids? The professor is about to throw away his pen, and what is the student learning from this automated correction tool? My impressions have since changed. Here, see what I mean. Here’s the commercial that I first saw on TV last year:
Since using the free version, I have found it to enhance writing beyond what MS-Word can do. MS-Word does suggest corrections, but Grammarly gives reasons and examples behind the suggestions, and they are things that stick in mind, therefore, aiding learning how to do, or not do, that again. Here is a bit of back story and after, how it works.
Brad Hoover, Grammarly’s CEO, is an investor with engineering backgrounds who was looking for an automated proofreader for his company. He stumbled across Grammarly, founded in 2009, headquartered in San Francisco, California and another office in Kyiv, Ukraine. It provides spell checking, grammar usage, plagiarism protection, and it won the 2013 Best Online Grammar Checker Comparison and Review.
The Grammarly website also offers a blog with varying entries on writing, ranging from how to write better short stories to using elements of storytelling and other things as well. Presented not as little bites of general info, but as a full article in more entertaining ways with fun pictures as well as examples of the subject. These are sourced from multiple well-known books and stories so as to be both helpful to younger or beginning writers as well as helping the most experienced to remember something that last night’s bottle of wine now makes fuzzy.
Check out Grammarly’s blog, and see what I’m talking about: What is a protagonist?
Now that we know the basics of what this program does, in general, I think it’s time to use it on a pair of stories on this blog and see what it can do for me. Although I’ve used the free version lately on the majority of my rough works, I’ll pick something earlier as well to see what happens. Grammarly checks spelling and punctuation in the free version. The paid version lets you into their ‘advanced’ proofreading of word usage.
0.) Rough Drift is go: posted as my first entry, detailing the beginning. I even purposely only checked spelling and then posted, so it’s a great subject with which to try this program.
I’m writing this and I’m only going to check spelling, then post. That’s it.
My bookshelf is full of biography, aviation technical binders, science-fiction, regular fiction, reference materials and special things from my daughters. I’ve read most of it and some will permanently be on my get-to list. I bought a used and near-mint copy ofRed Mercury, wanting to dig in to that story and it’s been ten years now. Plenty of other stuff has been consumed in the mean time. When looking for something else to read I just don’t seem to feel like that one at that time.
I’m late to writing. I’m forty-one, soon forty-two and discovered how fun writing what I want can be. I’m not going to write a certain way because everyone else does. I’m going to pound on the keys singing Sinatra’s My Way while writing fiction and the occasional observation.
Once in a while among the following posts, I will post something like this. An observation or review of something that I read in efforts to use it towards a project or two. I write on the technical side while my mind projects scenes of texture to mix with it. I can’t describe it but I can tell you that when studying hard for a company recurrent class on the airplane I’m trained to fly, I invented a wrestling card game that is stillborn for two years now but mechanically, is all kinds of fun.
That’s how I work and this place is hopefully going to straighten me out. I’m crazy up there.
I’m surprised it has only eight issues with this piece. I wasn’t trying to eek out a story here, just write how I felt. The errors were some punctuation and tense. Nothing very looming, yet, I suspect enough errors to drop a few grades were it a submitted class paper. Let’s move on to an actual story.
Weirdos in gray: Posted August 24th, 2016: A very much B-movie/pulp sci-fi style of story. I just had fun with the ludicrous nature of it. Grammarly suddenly found 14 advanced errors and some spelling. I underlined the areas it has problems, and within the story, I will detail what it says is wrong. Here is a picture of the software in action:
So let’s get started.
“Go ahead and tell the whole internet. They’ll never believe you’re crazy story.”
Agent Smith’s gray hat barely cleared the headliner as he cornered onto a gravel road.
I said, “It’s true. We saw it. You told me you saw it too.”
“Yeah, think about it ok? I’ll tell ya UFO’s are real too. Aliens, Hitler’s brain, Elvis alive in Michigan, that’s all real stuff but you know how it all goes over In the end. No one will believe you. We got the conspiracy market fixed.” His conviction was like supremely winning a Star Wars vs. Star Trek argument.
(Above, it tells me about using commas, repetitive words and slang usage.)
The tan Chevrolet sedan stopped near a burning hulk of airliner, water spraying from fire trucks to control the burning fields on the edge of town. They were lucky it didn’t plow into the Wal-Mart a hundred yards further. Aluminum wrapped people on fire is a terrible smell.
(‘Airliner’ should follow an inserted ‘an,’ ‘plow’ shows up as a possibly confused word.)
Throwing the console shifter into park, Agent Smith continued, “Besides, a lightning shooting giant octopus living in the Black Canyon is gunnna’ sound really sane to the internet, your family, your friends, and your doctor.”
(Dialogue will set off the warnings if you write in colloquial terms or stylized pronunciations from a character. So you can ignore it or not if that’s how your character talks)
He was right. We were the only two witnesses of the shoot-down. A regional turbo-prop airliner was approaching Montrose’s airport when a massive slimy head peeked over the fifteen-hundred foot canyon wall. A tentacle reached up, fired lightning out of a suction cup, blasting off the right engine nacelle and wing. I was camping near the canyon edge. Agent “Smith” was “vacationing” – In a gray suit jacket and hat. As the only other witness he showed his badge and offered me a ride to town-along with some professional advice. He told me what he saw and after hearing his story, I knew I wasn’t seeing things. I told what I witnessed.
(I could spell turbo-prop without the hyphen, I forgot a hyphen in the written 1500 foot drop, comma forgetfulness, and hyphen use and it did warn of a progressive tense usage that might not be correct in the end.)
I shook my head, “This is straight out of a fifties B-movie you know.”
Smith turned his head to me, all serious, and said, “Those were all full-on documentaries. Real shit in those films. We had to scare people so they’d stay away from the weird places. Tar pits, black lagoons, radioactive test sites, lights in the woods. Now, more are scared than curious. We saved lives with those films. Public service announcements they were…Can you believe this bastard got here all the way from Vegas?”
(more dialogue, but it mentions better word pairs are possible and unnecessary ellipsis.)
We got out of the car. I grabbed my backpack from the rear seat. He wouldn’t let me put it in the trunk. It was only a short hike to a motel. Smith held out a fifty dollar bill.
“Here, for a room tonight. The canyon will be closed for another day or so until we exterminate the octopus. Then you can go back to camp. I’m sure the park will tell you why they’re closed.”
We shook hands, “Yeah. I’m good. I got my clothes. Thank’s for the lift and the room tonight.”
Then I said the dumbest thing I ever said in my life, “Good luck with your atomic octopus hunt.”
“No, thank you! Now we know what suction cups to avoid. You’re a good American helping us like that. If we have more questions, we know where you live.”
I have no doubt about that. Men-in-Black, my ass.
(Overused words here. And, an incomplete comparison alert.)
So that was my B-movie style Sci-Fi piece from a while back. I could easily spruce it up here using Grammarly suggestions. For some other works I have up on this blog, I will filter through them and adjust accordingly, but in the end, the process is not perfect.
The interface is excellent and easy to use. As you can see in the above picture, the fixes are on the right, and you can just click on the suggestions to make the change or undo it with another click. It’s not perfect, though. There will never be a complete automatic analyzer for on the fly use. However, this is close! Still, it can’t account for your exact style or any artful wording. There are grammar rules that aren’t black and white but left open to interpretation where Grammarly will flag it, and you could be perfectly okay using what you did. You could use any selection of word order you want, and as long as it fits within the rules, you will be ready. You would not have any idea if you wrote boring and tedious words or much more entertaining things because it does not have a creativity function. What computer has creativity?
The fat dog is brown and likes a good nap.
The homicidal dog is brown and loves a good leg.
Grammarly has no problem with either one of these. Which one is more interesting to you? The writer is still centric to the project. The value a reader gets is still affected by the effort and creativity within the document an author imparts. Any student could use this tool to perfect all spelling, punctuation, and point of view issues, and that may be good enough for a passing grade. Good for you students. If you want your work to shine, it will come from your inside dedication to creating entertaining language and not from this tool.
Overall, is it worth the discounted ninety-something dollars I just spent for the year subscription? I think it can serve as an excellent learning tool for anyone wanting to improve writing, especially if they pay attention to what it says they just did wrong. Otherwise, it’s worth it to get one grade higher on a paper (several grades higher if you really suck) or enhance the readability of your research papers for other classes. Language mechanics get reviewed. Over 250 rules checked against and there’s a plagiarism function to use in case anything accidentally seems too similar. I think, for me, it’s worth it, but anyone who graduated a collegiate English program won’t find anything new over what they already know; unless they aren’t frequently using their new skills. Are you into progressive tense experimentation? How about successfully writing fiction in second-person? Then I think you might be a bit past this software. For me, it’s very much worth it, for now. I look at it as an investment in my goals. I still have quite a bit to learn.