This month, author Kathy Reichs enters the world of AutoCrit as an all-new option in our author comparison stables. You’ll now be able to directly compare your writing style with Kathy’s, allowing you to focus your editing guidance and model your use of words against hers!
To celebrate this new addition, we got our hands on the brand new entry in Kathy’s Temperance Brennan series – the inspiration behind the hugely successful TV show Bones.
So today, with our copy of A Conspiracy of Bones in hand, we ask…
What’s the Score?
DISCLAIMER: Note that this series is not designed to provide any kind of qualitative judgment nor a critique of the works dissected. As an exercise in exploration, What’s the Score? offers unique insight for us word nerds as to the linguistic makeup of specific novels, and evokes discussion of possible editing strategies in retrospect. All novels chosen for inspection have already proved immensely successful and stand as a testament to the author’s talents.
Summary Score and Fingerprint
Starting off our investigation using AutoCrit’s “General Fiction” comparison option, A Conspiracy of Bones comes in at an incredibly healthy 87.71 summary score.
This is one of the strongest showings we’ve had throughout the What’s the Score? series and makes for an excellent benchmark.
(Click here to catch up with the rest of the series if you’re new to the AutoCrit blog.)
Looking at the fingerprint analysis for this book, we can see that most of the indicators present are in the Strong Writing category, closely followed by Word Choice, and then Repetition.
Before we get to those meaty areas, however, let’s look at a place where it seems Kathy Reichs excels: dialogue.
With so few indicators noted in the fingerprint, it’s a surprise to see that dialogue tags other than said or asked actually appear, in total, more often throughout this book.
Looking into this, we found ourselves facing a unique challenge – something we hadn’t yet seen throughout this series.
Looking at the chart below might give you a clue as to what that challenge was…
In our chart, you can see that said and asked are the most frequent tags to be found – but some unusual words also crop up. Words like controlled or flicked don’t appear to be entirely relevant to speech.
So what’s going on?
Jumping into the manuscript, we found one thing in particular stands out about Kathy’s writing:
She very, very rarely uses any dialogue tags whatsoever throughout this novel. And when she does, they aren’t necessarily in the position you’d expect.
When AutoCrit’s algorithm is looking for a dialogue tag, it searches for a string of dialogue that’s immediately followed by a past tense verb, which would normally find itself attached to the dialogue in English writing.
Reichs, however, often avoids the dialogue tag completely. Instead, she keeps the action pumping along, moving forward with close proximity verbs until the next line of dialogue.
Take this line, for example:
“He has a verified account.” Resolutely controlled.
Something like this can cause a false positive, so keep an eye out for those in your own writing. Inside AutoCrit, you can actually add these false positives to your own exclusion list if you wish.
Another place we can see Kathy’s inventive tag use is in lines like this:
“I rang for the nurse.” Then, bellowed over one shoulder, “Where’s the goddamn nurse?”
Notice how the tag actually comes before the dialogue it’s attached to, not after. This is a way of constructing dialogue that’s worth keeping in mind for your own stories.
In the end, even though A Conspiracy of Bones contains a high proportion of alternative dialogue tags, we could find very, very little overuse of those alternatives. Reichs’s dialogue is sparse, sharp, and comes at you in almost staccato back and forths. Great stuff.
Beyond dialogue tags, we also like to look at an author’s use of adverbs connected to dialogue. How does this particular book hold up there?
A mere 12 adverbs found in dialogue tags throughout the entire novel definitely drives home Kathy’s skill with managing the way her characters speak.
Below, we can see the ones that have been used the most – with not a single adverb triggering AutoCrit’s overuse detectors.
Looking at repetition, does Kathy have a habit of leaning on the same words too often?
At 3.66 repeated words per page, the turnout for A Conspiracy of Bones puts it in excellent company compared to the books we’ve inspected in this series so far.
In the screenshot below, you can see an initial list of words that have been repeated in close proximity to one another. Many a novel will have character names appear in this way, and that’s generally fine. Usually it’s the other words you need to skim through, just to make sure you haven’t repeated one much too often in a short space of time.
While we’re trying to avoid exposure to the core story elements of this brand new novel as much as possible (no spoilers!), the passage you see in the screenshot above is a good indicator of a repeated phrase you could keep a look out for.
Scrolling through, we can see that “good, thanks” appears three times in very close proximity. On closer inspection, however, this is very much done for effect (and a nice piece of writing).
From our own time with the novel, we conclude that no, A Conspiracy of Bones does not have any problem whatsoever with repetitive content.
Just to top things off with a bit of fun, here’s a couple of word clouds highlighting the most frequent words and phrases used throughout the novel. As previously mentioned, character names, settings, and story-specific macguffins are usually the largest elements you’ll see here.
What's YOUR Score?
Now we land in the Strong Writing category, and we’re setting our sights on the use of adverbs throughout A Conspiracy of Bones. How does it fare?
Initial impressions are excellent, with the AutoCrit gauge landing right between Good and Great in comparison to what we’d expect from bestselling fiction.
But as always, let’s do a proper job and get right down to the word level.
Despite the perfectly pleasant overall gauge, we still have some work to do if we want to get ourselves all the way up to the top of the range.
The most overused adverbs found in A Conspiracy of Bones are mostly, apparently, eventually, and seriously.
The numbers recommended for removal or replacement vary, but this is usually one of the first places you’ll start when editing your own manuscript. If any of these words also appear in your repetition reports, then definitely target those first – that will be your quickest path to victory.
Up next is Unnecessary Filler Words…
Besides adverbs, filler words are probably the thing you’ll most often tackle early on in your editing. For A Conspiracy of Bones, the result off the bat isn’t bad at all, landing almost right on the average for successful fiction.
One of the most common filler words in existence, here we see that topping the chart. It isn’t overused, though. The crown for overuse goes to then and that’s.
Drilling down to the word level, we can see some pretty hefty use of then in comparison to that’s, but both have a strong number of removals recommended. If this were your own manuscript… you guessed it: time for some coffee and a bit of effort to hit your goals.
Moving on, it’s true that “Showing vs. Telling” can be a difficult category to get to grips with if you haven’t already edited a few books so far.
A general rule of writing tells us not to outright tell the reader (or viewer, in the case of screenplays) what’s happening. Instead we should, as much as possible, show what’s happening – either through character action or other, more visual means.
When checking for indicators that the author may be telling at points during A Conspiracy of Bones, the result is very positive indeed.
The indicators found most often throughout this manuscript aren’t actually overused, which is great. Looking across the chart, we find felt, heard, there’s, and feeling to be particular standouts.
You might wonder why words such as these are targeted, and felt is a good example to demonstrate. In your writing, it can be tempting to shortcut your way to information delivery by saying something like “she felt angry,” when actually showing the reader the character is angry would be a more involving way to go.
Getting better at this comes with experience, but AutoCrit helps in those initial edits by drawing your attention to places where this might be happening based on the words you’re using. It certainly won’t always be the case that you need to make any changes, but the guidance is there to help.
Next up, we’re looking at another area that can very easily trip up authors in early drafts: tense consistency.
Below, we can see straight away that this book should be written in the past tense. (It is, so that’s good.)
Don’t worry if you see a chart like the one below, which seems to split tenses – that’s something that will naturally happen as characters speak in the present tense, or if occasional narration looks to the future or somewhere other than the prevailing past tense narrative.
Just as we would expect from a novel by an author with stature like Kathy Reichs, the percentage of redundancies and clichés to be found in A Conspiracy of Bones is minute. Feel free to compare these numbers with the other novels in our series to give yourself a nice benchmark.
How Does Your Book Compare?
Follow us over here as we step into the Word Choice category.
First on the list for A Conspiracy of Bones are any generic descriptions. These are those wishy-washy weasel words that lack specificity and make a scene feel bland. Words like great, big, pretty or good.
Like filler words earlier, we’re pretty much (see what we did there?) sitting at an average rating.
The most frequent generic word we’re seeing here is maybe, followed up by wide and low.
The number of removals/substitutions for maybe are also high, making up more than half of the current usage:
Again, in a bid to avoid spoilers we won’t display any direct text from the novel, but the reason maybe is so important is that it is indeed a weasel word. Something could be described as “maybe” being a bit like this, or “maybe” a bit like that.
Descriptive prose of that kind that could possibly work if it were to come from the mind of a specific type of unfocused or vapid narrator, but otherwise you want to make sure your comparisons and descriptions are clear and well defined, easy for the reader to visualize in their mind’s eye.
In the case of A Conspiracy of Bones, most use of maybe ties into Temperance Brennan’s internal dialogue, and features heavily in dialogue – this is a mystery novel after all, so there’s going to be a lot of confusion and questions asked. Would we change it? Not much.
Next up is another statistic to keep in mind as a frame of reference: initial pronouns and names.
With 37.05% of sentences starting with a pronoun or name, A Conspiracy of Bones gives us what we would expect based on our research. It’s very, very rare to see a novel that makes significant progress into the 50s or beyond.
Given the most common pronoun that begins a sentence in this book is I, it should be easy to tell that the story is written from a first person point of view. So let’s check that now!
As you can see, first person indicators greatly outweigh any others. This is definitely a first person narrative.
Of course, you’ll likely see other point of view indicators make an appearance due to speech and additional narration. Just be mindful when checking your own novel that your intended point of view should be heavily dominant at a glance.
Taking a look at the power words profile of A Conspiracy of Bones, let’s see if we can get an overall feel for what type of book it is…
Standing out we have fear, encouragement, lust, anger, and things forbidden. This definitely offers a sense of the hunt for a killer, mysteries to uncover, and shocking revelations.
In short: exactly what you’d expect from a signature thriller by Kathy Reichs!
Pacing & Momentum
Over in the Pacing category, A Conspiracy of Bones zips across the finish line with a tiny 2.85% of slow-paced paragraphs detected. A superb result.
Looking at the graph, the red lines indicate spots that could be unnecessarily slow, and there’s definitely a small cluster of those right near the middle of the story. A spot like that would warrant a look to make sure there are no pacing issues right at the heart of the second act.
Small clusters near the end aren’t necessarily much to worry about – the story is often winding down then, after all – but it may also pay to take a look at the early chapters considering we can also see a small chunk of clustered red there.
Besides that, variation in word length looks excellent, with exceptionally defined peaks and troughs that indicate Reichs is dancing with her words, making sure the reader is never held in what could feel like a repetitive, lullaby-like state.
Finally, here are some sentence and paragraph statistics for you to consider. Note an average of just 8 words per sentence in the manuscript, and a mere 19 words average per paragraph.
That’s some very sparse, involving writing – likely made so by the kind of dialogue we mentioned earlier, which bounces back and forth line by line without tags in most instances.
With sparse, lean writing comes better readability – and A Conspiracy of Bones clocks in with a Flesch Reading Ease score of 73.
This puts it in the “fairly easy to read” category which, despite the book’s potentially quite grim content, makes it readable at the 7th grade level or roughly 12-13 years old.
Genre Comparison Score
As we reach the finish, let’s perform our customary AutoCrit genre comparison!
The most fitting genre option from our selection here would be Mystery & Suspense, so let’s see how A Conspiracy of Bones comes out when we compare its content to the standard of bestselling fiction in that genre.
A new score of 87.85 takes us a small jump ahead from our initial summary score.
That might not be a huge change, but it’s positive movement forward and that’s what matters. When the core construction of your novel is already incredibly solid, your genre comparison will likely move you forward but not be a bombastic, explosive change.
Nor would you sensibly want it to be. Your editing guidance needs to be realistic, after all – and that’s what AutoCrit is all about.
Thanks for checking out this edition of What’s the Score. Are you looking forward to joining Temperance Brennan on her latest adventure yourself? Did you catch any great tips or interesting takeaways from our look into the work of Kathy Reichs? Let us know in the comments below!
And if you’d like to try out AutoCrit for your own book, click here to jump on over and create your free account now.