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!
This time around, we’re dipping our shaking little toes into the pool of horror, with the terrifying novel Last Days by award-winning British author Adam Nevill.
Will delving into Nevill’s writing style be a frightful experience? Let’s find out…
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
Using AutoCrit’s “General Fiction” comparison setting, it’s a strong start for Adam Nevill with a summary score of 80.31. This is right within the range we’ve come to expect from a professional printing.
(You can compare all the scores we’ve uncovered so far by clicking here to see the rest of the series on this blog.)
Looking at the fingerprint analysis, you’ll see that the majority of potential edits are found within the Strong Writing category, followed by Word Choice and then Repetition.
But as always, let’s start with the less intimidating areas such as dialogue…
There’s no surprise why Nevill’s dialogue indicator numbers were so low: he hardly uses any dialogue tags at all. When he does, however, he happily sticks to the rule of using said and asked wherever possible instead of more flowery tags like screamed or yelled.
In the chart below, we can see that none of Nevill’s tags appear to be overused except for bellowed – which is an exemplary effort from this author when it comes to AutoCrit’s standard comparison with bestselling fiction.
Just to be certain, we jumped into the manuscript to check whether the book itself is very low on dialogue, or whether the lack of tags is a stylistic choice on the part of the author – and the latter is most definitely the case.
There’s plenty of dialogue to be found, but Nevill spaces it out incredibly well on the page so you’re never lost with regard to who’s talking. On another stylistic note, Nevill often frames his dialogue with character action – so his characters will perform an action (either subtle or grand) just before or just after speaking.
That’s a valuable lesson to think about when writing and editing your own stories: rather than trying to change tags to lower your ratio, why not forgo them altogether and try to blend your dialogue into the action?
Given the low number of dialogue tags throughout the book, we find only ten adverbs used within them for a total of 5%. This is a superb result in context of the total number, with not a single one of the detected adverbs having been overused compared to our database of bestselling books (see chart below).
So, stylistically, Nevill has absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to dialogue in Last Days.
Let’s move on to Repetition…
Our word clouds might give you some idea of the plot behind Last Days, with the most frequently-used single words being character names, and the most-used phrases relating to “the temple,” cameras, characters, locations… and the walls.
If you know, you know.
What we’re looking for, though, are indications as to whether any of these words or phrases might be overused or showing up too close to each other within sentences, paragraphs, or chapters.
For that, we’ll head over to our word charts once more.
The good news is that not a single phrase appears to be overused. When it comes to single words, we do find some overuse, but these are primarily character names and elements unique to the core of this story, so there’s always going to be some expected reporting there that you can ignore.
To confirm this, we investigated multiple sections of Nevill’s manuscript (no screen shots in order to avoid spoilers, sorry!) and found no reason to trim any of the overused words. They rarely, if ever, appeared in swift succession so as to cause any irritating repetition.
If that’s the case in your own writing, then we’d say to leave well enough alone. As with dialogue, Nevill is once again showing himself to be deeply skilled with economy and placement of words.
What's YOUR Score?
The use of adverbs throughout Last Days comes in with a near-perfect reading on our General Fiction comparison meter, which is an excellent sign.
Drilling down to the word-level, however, you might be surprised to see so much red there. Words such as already, quickly, barely, nearly, and mostly top the count for overused – but the real question is “by how much?”
In the screenshot above, we can see that recommended removals/replacements are very low – most words only require a handful (if even) of adjustments. The biggest target is quickly, with 19, which far and away exceeds the rest.
Checking the manuscript for the others, we tend to find that most of Nevill’s adverbs appear within dialogue. This can be a challenge when it comes to your own stories, as people do naturally use plenty of adverbs when speaking and you want to keep your dialogue sounding as authentic as possible.
Due to that, you should focus your efforts on adverbs within the narrative prose before thinking about any inside your dialogue. While we’re sure Last Days could indeed do without a few instances of the word quickly, we found very little else of concern – making the near-perfect adverbs reading a well-earned success.
Moving on to the filler words report, Last Days lies just outside the “average” range – with even and that’s being the two most overused filler words found.
Though there are only two overused words topping the list, it’s the number of recommended removals that push the gauge outside of the average.
What’s challenging about Last Days, though, is that once again most instances of these words appear within dialogue that reads and feels totally fine – so we couldn’t muster many sequences where an editor might recommend further trims.
Some surely exist, but rooting them out is a job for you as you do your deep editing work alongside AutoCrit’s helpful red marks.
Next up, let’s take a look at the Showing vs. Telling report…
Once more, we’re a little above average in this area, with there, see, get, it’s, heard, and saw being our primary targets.
The concept of showing vs. telling is always a tricky one for authors, and with the help of our research AutoCrit tries to bring your attention to words that tend to indicate the presence of this particular problem.
Take see or heard, for example. In your story, you could say something like he could see, or he heard, and then proceed to describe what the character sees or hears. But the story might be made better by describing the character’s reaction or interaction with the things they’re seeing or hearing. Maybe they turn their head as a strange sound emanates from a locked room – and then you go on to describe the sound, rather than simply saying “he heard a strange cry from behind the locked door.”
These kind of simple changes can make your writing much more involving. That said, however, as an overall experience Last Days leaves us with no concerns. This novel is genuinely skin-crawling at times. Nevill more than capably puts the screws to your nerves, meaning we have no complaints whatsoever.
Since we can, let’s go on to check out the tense and point of view consistency throughout this novel…
Right away, we can tell this is a third person narrative written in past tense. The pie charts you see above are an excellent example of what to expect from such a novel. You’ll always have small parts of other tenses and points of view creeping through due to dialogue and other smaller factors, but they shouldn’t overwhelm the bulk of your chosen tense and POV.
Next, we’re poking into the number of redundancies and clichés that might have crept into Nevill’s manuscript…
Redundancies happen when information is repeated shortly after it’s already been given, and Nevill has no problem keeping things varied, sporting just 1.16% of potential redundant phrasing throughout Last Days.
A 4.77% reading of potential clichés is also perfectly within the range we’d expect from successful fiction, so that’s a great result. Looking at some of the phrases found, it looks like “as if” is undeniably the forerunner – and that’s something that could looked at to see if the author is perhaps overusing the phrase in order to frame similes.
Given the overall rating, though, we’d say any further efforts in editing are better spent elsewhere.
Entering the realm of the Word Choice category, how does Last Days fare in terms of generic descriptions?
The answer is: very well!
Our gauge is just above average, and it looks (pardon the pun) as though the primary contributing factor is overuse of the word looked.
That’s something that could easily be tackled – and the rest of the recommended changes feature only a small number of removals or substitutions. Looked is a word that can sometimes factor into the realm of showing vs. telling, too, so if this were your own manuscript, you could most definitely find some quick wins here.
Now, let’s get statistical with a look at initial pronouns and names, and the number of sentence starters found within Last Days.
Through our research, we’ve found it to be very rare that a bestselling fiction novel would feature more than 50% of sentences beginning with a character name or pronoun – and Last Days is no exception at 41.13%.
With 12.52% of sentences beginning with a sentence starter (think conjunctions such as and, but, or because), Last Days is a little above average but not very far ahead.
Sentence starters aren’t necessarily a problem. Unless you use one, and then use another. And then use the same one again. And then, once more, you decide to use that same one. And then think about maybe another. But that’s not enough, is it? Because you need another. And so on.
They’re a stylistic choice, but too many can make your writing too staccato and predictable, robbing your written voice of the music that helps keep readers entranced. If your percentage seems high compared to the novels we’ve investigated so far, that might be an indication that you should dial them back with a rewrite.
To round off this category, let’s check out the emotional map of Last Days. Does it seem to hit the tonal notes we’d expect?
Fear most definitely leads the way here, forming almost half of the book’s emotional makeup. Next up are nearly equal measures encouragement and lust – and this combination speaks almost perfectly to the story itself.
This feeling of forbidden secrets, strange rituals, desire for immortality and power, and a heavy dose of what goes wrong when all these things collide should ring true for anyone who’s read Last Days.
Pacing & Momentum
Coming at 2.91% of paragraphs being slower paced than they perhaps could be, Last Days gives us an excellent result for pacing.
Looking at the chart, the variation in paragraph length is striking, and most definitely gives us that visual roller coaster effect. The slower paragraphs (red at the bottom) seem to arrive in small clusters, especially around the middle, which likely speaks to the setting up of atmosphere, punctuated by the expected heart-pounding fear sequences.
A novel that relies as heavily on atmosphere and a building mythos as Last Days does is naturally going to slow down in places – but we see nothing alarming here except for perhaps a a small handful of heavy red blocks that you might want to check out if this were your own manuscript.
Featuring an average of 9 words per sentence, Nevill’s writing remains snappy. The average of 46 words per paragraph is actually lower than other books we’ve looked at in a similar genre, once again speaking to Nevill’s ability to conjure genuine atmosphere with an impressive economy of words.
A Flesch Reading Ease score of 80 places Last Days right on the boundary of the 6th and 7th grade reading levels – somewhere between the higher level of conversational English, and fairly easy for experienced readers.
This is a good point to keep in mind: even if you’re creating material that’s meant specifically for adults who can handle the content, you should still ensure your writing is clear, concise, and accessible for the majority of people.
Genre Comparison Score
Finally, let’s see what happens when we compare Last Days with AutoCrit’s “Mystery & Suspense” genre setting. (We’ll have a dedicated Horror genre setting on the way soon, fright fans!)
The result is what we like to see: a solid bump takes Last Days to a summary score of 83.73.
This gives a definitive nod to the book’s suspenseful nature and use of language, as it conjures both mysteries and nail-biting thrills – an example to be followed, for sure.
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Thanks for checking out this edition of What’s the Score. Leave your feedback in the comments below and let us know any parts that surprised you, excited you, or gave you some hot tips to keep in mind during your own adventures in editing!
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