Welcome back to What’s the Score?, the series in which we take novels from famous and bestselling authors, and put them to the test using the AutoCrit editing platform.
Report by report, we’ll give you an unparalleled look inside the workings of some of the most respected authors in every corner of the publishing industry.
Plus, you’ll get to see why the AutoCrit method is so powerful, and discover how to interpret report results for the maximum benefit of your manuscripts!
In this edition, we’re entering the world of fan-favorite sleuth Jack Reacher with Blue Moon.
What can we learn from the writing style of author Lee Child? How will the AutoCrit platform react to this novel?
There’s only one way to solve this mystery…
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 out on AutoCrit’s “General Fiction” comparison setting, Blue Moon arrives with an overall summary score of 75.47.
(You can compare all the scores we’ve uncovered so far by clicking here to see the rest of the series on this blog.)
Checking out the fingerprint analysis, most of our indicators appear in the Strong Writing category, followed by Word Choice and then Repetition.
Dialogue, too, seems reasonably high, so let’s start there and see what’s going on within the pages of Blue Moon.
Given the total number of dialogue tags detected, we can assume there is lots of dialogue within this particular Jack Reacher adventure.
Thankfully, though, Child sticks very closely to the rule of restricting dialogue tags to said and asked wherever possible.
If we drill down to the word level, we can more closely see what’s happening here…
AutoCrit has detected that both said and asked are overused. That’s why they’re marked in red. This isn’t necessarily a problem for the story, however, as this is merely a comparison between how many times Child has used these tags compared to a bestselling novel of the same or similar length (many will be much lower in dialogue content).
Our main concern here is the alternate tag whispered, for which 8 removals are recommended. As you see in the screenshot above, we actually found a section that uses whispered multiple times in quick succession, which feels a little overcooked.
Rather than inserting whispered into every remark and response, prose could be used to set the frame for this stretch of dialogue – so the reader knows the characters are whispering, rather than having to be constantly be told so. A simple change like this could almost totally eliminate those extra uses of the tag.
As to the recommended removals for said and asked, 622 feels too extreme a target to reasonably attempt for said. This being the case, in your own editing it would be best to simply swing through all of your dialogue to see where removals would be appropriate without losing track of who’s speaking.
Don’t be too caught up in trying to match the recommendations exactly. If it reads well to you, the author, then you’ll probably want to leave it be.
Now let’s take a look at Child’s use of adverbs in dialogue. How does he fare?
Quite frankly, this is an incredible result.
With just five adverbs that are attached to a dialogue tag, Blue Moon comes in with the lowest result we’ve ever seen.
But what are the words that made it through?
We have exactly, eventually, cautiously, finally, and politely. Since each of them is only used once, not a single one is overused… leading to our first ever 0% detection rate for overused adverbs in dialogue!
Moving on to the repetition category, what we find is quite amusing given what we now know about the book’s dialogue-heavy nature.
Yes indeed! Far and away the most-used phrase is “Reacher said.” It’s so much more frequent, in fact, that it almost drowns out everything else in our word cloud.
Beyond that, though, how do things look in terms of frequency and overuse? Check out the shots below for the answer.
No phrases appear to be overused, which is a pleasant surprise. When it come to single words, we have a handful that are overused: guys, Hogan, ok, Dino, ahead, center, block, and answer.
It isn’t a case for doom and gloom, however, as we can exclude character names such as Hogan and Dino from the reporting if we wish to ignore those. Each other standard word can be tackled on a simple word-by-word basis where changes still make sense.
One thing to note is the first “normal” word that appears for overuse: guys. Child’s prose, by way of Reacher’s thought processes, often refers to characters as “guys” or “the guy,” and it can actually be pretty confusing at times. Paying attention to nondescript words like this in your own reports might lead you to spots where clarity could be improved – so don’t be too quick to discount them if you only have a few to remove.
It’s a great result overall for adverbs in our first Strong Writing category report, sitting almost mid way between good and great.
But as always, the real meat sits at the word level, so let’s jump on in…
The words probably and already lead the charge for overuse, with a respective 60 and 43 removals recommended.
Looking at the manuscript itself for places where these trims could be found, we discovered something curious about the style of a Jack Reacher novel: an almost constant use of probably as Reacher attempts to deduce information about the people, places, and things with which he interacts.
The word maybe (more on that later) is used in a similar fashion – and this is probably (sorry!) something we would have to concede to a large degree to the author’s own style.
Sure, with the use of the word probably it can often feel like super-sleuth Jack Reacher seems to be guessing his way through most situations most of the time, but the language does work in its own way – following along as Reacher’s mind bounces from point to point and pieces together what he believes.
Moving on to unnecessary filler words, we’re sitting right around the average spot with 1,493 detected. To check out which ones we might want to target for a deeper look, we need to switch to the word-level reporting.
The filler word that shows up most often is that – but it isn’t overused. Since it isn’t marked in red, AutoCrit has determined that most books of a similar length to Blue Moon don’t run into problems when they use that this many times.
A close second, however, is then, which is indeed overused. Next up for a trim are that’s and very. So let’s hop into the manuscript and see what we have…
In the sample above, we’d say the first two uses of then could easily be trimmed without hurting the flow of the prose. Examples like this do show up quite regularly throughout Blue Moon, so it would definitely be beneficial to spend some time clipping out that unnecessary filler.
The third example, however, is placed where it needs to be – but you might say the words either side could be removed without worry.
When it comes to showing vs. telling, we’re very high up in the excess end of our gauge.
The primary culprit is the word it – but don’t be fooled by the apparently high total count of 1,332. The actual number of removals recommended once we jump into the manuscript is only 117 of those.
(Side note: If you’re unsure how the word it could possibly indicate a lack of showing, check out our article Why “It” Matters in Your Book by clicking here.)
Upon running the showing vs. telling report, the first thing to appear was a part of the book that actually felt quite odd from the beginning. Suddenly, the reason became quite obvious.
You see, Blue Moon opens with what could only be described as an exposition dump. Yes, it’s important to set the scene and have the reader understand the time, place, and context within which the story is taking place, but this can easily be achieved during the action of your early chapters (or later on, if full understanding isn’t necessary from the off).
Reading further than this segment, it becomes obvious that the same could have been done in Blue Moon. Quite accurately, AutoCrit points out that this opening block is stuffed full of telling without showing.
But there’s something else that adds to the reason the opening feels strangely weak…
And that something else is passive voice.
Nestled right in the middle of two larger paragraphs that are almost entirely tell, the passive phrasing drags down an uninvolving introduction even further. As a whole, it feels throwaway and less cinematic than we presume it hopes to be (think an establishing aerial shot over a city in a crime thriller movie).
This is, of course, a somewhat subjective observation of this stretch of prose, so do leave your own thoughts in the comments at the end of this article.
Moving on to consistency, let’s take a look at the tense and point of view of Blue Moon.
We can’t spy any obvious inconsistencies here, with a story that’s obviously written in the past tense and third person. You’ll notice a large chunk of first tense references, but that isn’t necessarily a worry given we know the novel is packed with dialogue, and most dialogue is delivered in present tense.
Finally, with just 1.67% redundancies and 5.18% cliché phrases detected in the manuscript, Lee Child holds up well against the other books we’ve dissected in this series.
Generic Descriptions is our next report, and our gauge is almost entirely maxed out. Why is that?
The reason is our old friend maybe that we mentioned earlier. Specifically, the gauge is pushed so high because of the number of recommended removals. In this case, that’s 259 for just one word.
Some examples of generic descriptors can be seen here:
Child likes to keep things simple and plain in his prose. Above, for example, “the nice part of town” doesn’t really need any deeper description.
Once again, we’re seeing Reacher’s thoughts fill in gaps in his thinking with maybe – and that’s pushing this particular report to the limit.
Could some uses of the word be trimmed? That’s probably true, but to reiterate the point: this is Child’s character, and if maybe and probably are how Reacher does things, then that’s a decision for the author, not AutoCrit.
If you find yourself in the same situation and would really rather leave things as they are, you could add these words to your personal exclusion list and have the reporting ignore them so you can focus elsewhere.
Sitting right in line with expectations, Blue Moon comes in with 41.65% of sentences beginning with a character name or pronoun. From our experience, most novels sit between 40% and 50%.
Likewise, 6.72% of sentences begin with a conjunction or “sentence starter,” which is quite low compared to other books we’ve investigated. There’s nothing qualitative about that figure, but it’s interesting to know, nonetheless.
Finishing up this category, let’s find out what primary emotions Lee Child is invoking with his word choice throughout Blue Moon…
Our top three players are fear, encouragement, and greed. There’s less appearance of “energetic” type words than you might expect, but the main three feel on point – threat, suspense, the hero overcoming resistance, and probably lots of talk about money and power, given the nature of the plot.
Pacing & Momentum
Pacing doesn’t appear to be much of an issue for Child, with just 6.19% of paragraphs detected as slower-paced.
Recently, we updated the AutoCrit algorithm to more effectively detect longer and slower paragraphs, meaning numbers now tend to bump up slightly.
Still, our graph shows a nice variation in paragraph lengths – moving up and down with our beloved roller coaster effect – and there is plenty of spacing overall in the red (slower) paragraph marks below. A couple of chunks can be seen around the ends of Act 1 and Act 2, which are traditionally slower areas.
Earlier, we mentioned that Child likes to keep his prose simple and accessible, and that bears out in the readability tests for Blue Moon.
A Flesch Reading Ease score of 83 puts the novel in the “easy to read” category, meaning it is delivered in plain conversational English.
Genre Comparison Score
To bring us across the finish line for this edition, let’s try something a little different.
How about we compare Blue Moon to Lee Child’s actual author profile inside AutoCrit, rather than a wider genre?
The result is…
A huge jump in score takes Blue Moon to 83.49 – a definite sign that we’re dealing with a manuscript Lee Child fans will enjoy.
Remember, no author is going to write exactly the same book twice – but even though the content may change, there are always conscious and unconscious style trends that mark an author’s voice. Given this, we could never expect to see a full 100 score.
Instead, look at the scale of the score increase when you switch between the “General Fiction” setting and the author or genre profile by which you wish to be guided. A solid increase gives you the green light you need to know you’re on the right track.
Would you like to write like Lee Child? Find out how close you are right now by comparing directly to his author profile when you join AutoCrit Pro!
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