When the words blur…

And you feel like your brain has turned to mush…

The four steps of death by editing... Source: http://flic.kr/p/7bqouk

The four steps of death by editing…
Source: http://flic.kr/p/7bqouk

Or when you want to smack your head against the desk – repeatedly and with great force. You need to distance yourself from your work.

In short, take a break!

After taking a couple of days from my previous edits, mainly to percolate the ideas around in my mind (this happily coincided with the weekend! Yay!) I set to changing things. Having given my eyes a couple of days to distance them from the story also meant I came in with a fresh perspective.

This edit was one of the most brutal. I went in and changed anything that I thought didn’t fit, I came in with different ideas on how to say the same thing but with more detail, offering to the reader what I believe is a richer experience.

This edit is also when I added chapter 3. The previous edits had finished at the end of chapter 2. (Not that you’ve seen the rest of chapter 1, let alone chpater 2 or 3 yet.)


The yellow highlight shows additions or changes in words, sentence structure or both. The green was added specifically to add a sense of urgency to the writing. By adding long and short sentences mixed in together, but making the bulk of them closer to the short-range it helps to add a sprinkle of suspense.

Words: 550 – I was quite ruthless this edit down from 588 words.

Have any of you used the Microsoft Word built-in readability statistics?

I use it quite a lot with business writing to check if I’m on track, but it’s also useful for fiction. Have you heard of the Flesch Reading Ease or the Flesh-Kincaid grade level? Yes, no, maybe?

Flesh Reading Ease: This is based upon a formula (exactly what that formula is I’m not sure), basically, the higher the score the easier the material is to read. Some examples are, Reader’s Digest has a readability index of about 65, Time magazine about 50 and the Harvard Law Review averages around the low 30s.

Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level: This translates the reading score into US education grade levels; the lower the score the easier the material is to read. ‘Standard’ writing should aim to be around eighth grade with a readability score of approx. 60.

Goals to try to reach: 
NOTE: This is obviously a generalisation, and should be adjusted depending on your audience. Also, if you write fantasy or science-fiction where non-standard language is used, this will affect the result.

Average sentence length: Maximum of 20 words.
The percentage of passive voice: Maximum of 25%; in talking points aim for 0%. Active voice is easier to connect with as a reader, easier to read.
Flesch reading ease: Aim for 40+
Flesch-Kincaid grade level: Aim for 10-12

My stats from Version 5 - text you've all seen.

My stats from Version 5.


Yeah! Diminutive words rock!

I’m not exactly sure why it thinks I’ve only got 2 paragraphs, but the number of sentences is correct.

One of the things that these statistics can highlight is when you use complex words when a simple one would better suit and make the text easier to read.

Have you had some fails when using this guide? I know I have! Passive voice in business writing is common. If you haven’t used this fantastic little thing you can turn it on in Word. Sadly, I don’t think Mac have this feature in their Office suite.

Tell us about your experiences below.


8 thoughts on “When the words blur…

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever used the scores in a fiction piece, I’ll try it. I tend to rend my (remaining) hair to make my passive voice sentences more active.

    • Passive writing can be difficult to change sometimes. Business writing seems to contain it most of the time which is a bit frustrating.

      Let me know how you go Tony when you try it on your fiction writing.

  2. I played with the readability widget when I started using Word; however as I write in British English the scoring was not quite right for my primary audience. In the several years I have been using Open Office I have not thought to check if Writer has an equivalent.

    I prefer to obtain comprehensibility estimates from beta readers.

    • That’s interesting Dave, I thought it’d be able to manage different English types fairly well. Strange.

      I agree though, Beta readers are a better and more unique way to check for readability, I think the different ways people read and understand things offers a far greater mix of feedback to then apply to ones writing.

      • It is not that it cannot understand Britglish, it is that different things were (possibly still are) counted as difficult or not in different countries: for example I learnt the passive voice young enough that I cannot remember when, whereas US style does not seem to regard it as something that should be in accessible fiction.

        • Ah, yes I see. I was always taught that passive voice is something to mostly be avoided too.

          Not, never do it, just pick when appropriate and on purpose.

  3. I haven’t used a readability scale, but I do tend to read my work out loud, which always helps me with establishing readability. If it’s confusing to say, it’s confusing to read, I’ve found.

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