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, our subject is hit romance author Brenda Jackson’s heartwarming One Special Moment.
How does the author use her words to generate romantic and dramatic tones? And how does the novel look when we get to AutoCrit’s summary score?
Let’s find out together!
Please note this article contains short excerpts from the book, which you may want to avoid looking at too closely if you wish to avoid (minor) story spoilers.
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, One Special Moment kicks things off with a pleasing summary score of 73.51.
(You can compare all the scores we’ve uncovered so far by clicking here to see the rest of the series on this blog.)
Taking a look at the novel’s unique fingerprint, we can see the majority of issues AutoCrit wants to bring to our attention are in the Strong Writing category, followed by Word Choice and then Repetition. Both the Dialogue and Pacing & Momentum categories look like they’re in very good shape with low numbers.
Since areas with lower numbers can offer us the best “quick wins” when starting off with editing, let’s jump into dialogue first…
As a rule of thumb, dialogue tags should be restricted to said and asked as much as possible, and Brenda Jackson’s work here sees the balance shifted in the right direction.
But is there anything remaining that could still be beneficial to tweak? Let’s take a look and the more common alternative dialogue tags that appear throughout the novel.
Here we can see that said is the most commonly used tag, followed by asked. We do have others that appear to be overused (marked in red), including replied, whispered, answered, stated and snapped.
These certainly aren’t the worst kind of alternate dialogue tags you could choose – they all offer a definite sense of how things are being said (except, perhaps, stated, which could easily be changed to said in most cases).
Still, let’s take a look at how AutoCrit recommends we might deal with any overused tags…
Looking at the sidebar, it doesn’t appear to be a huge job to meet most of these recommendations. We can see the standard asked is overused, but this is only within the context of an average bestselling novel of the same length. With that in mind, we would recommend focusing on alternate tags instead.
While looking for possible targets, we found the use of replied in the screenshot above, which could – along with the adverb that follows it – simply be replaced for said without losing the sense of tone or character behavior.
This same example of tagging leads us on to the next topic of dialogue: adverbs attached to dialogue tags…
Adverbs such as angrily tend to work against the author, since they “tell” the reader how a character feels, rather than “showing” the reader so they can feel more involved in the story. Of course, in this example Jackson goes on to make it absolutely clear how her character, Colby, feels in this moment – so is there really any need for the adverb?
Let’s take a look at AutoCrit’s overall “Adverbs in Dialogue” report…
With 23% of all detected dialogue tags in the manuscript being accompanied by an adverb, we have quite a high result here in comparison to other novels we’ve investigated.
The actual numbers used, however, are quite low – just 10 in total for the most over-used adverb (softly) and 6 total for huskily.
Let’s check out how many we might want to remove…
Thankfully, removal numbers are indeed low – so this shouldn’t be a difficult job if this were your own manuscript.
Thinking about the words with which we’re presented here, huskily sounds rather awkward. Let’s see where it actually appears in use throughout the story.
In this example, the intended effect is there – though we once again have a combination of an alternate tag (answered) with an adverb (huskily). If it works for you as the author, then that’s fine… but could there be a better way to get across the flirtatious intent of the dialogue without resorting to alternate tags and adverbs? Perhaps a short beat of character action?
It’s something to think about as you edit your way through.
As we enter the world of repetition, we can straight away see that the most commonly-used words in One Special Moment are character names.
Sterling, Colby, Hamilton, Wingate, and variations thereof completely dominate our word cloud. The phrase frequency report finds itself similarly dominated – which may not be particularly helpful if you’re looking out for more uncommon or difficult language that you feel you might be using too often.
Thankfully, that’s where AutoCrit’s exclusion list comes in! What if we exclude our main character names, so our repetition reports ignore them and we can focus elsewhere?
Without the character names, our cloud changes dramatically – offering you a more finely-tuned selection on which to focus. Words such as although, gaze, company, and diamond stand out here.
This is a useful tactic to use when checking for repetition, as the word cloud helps you pick out target words on which to focus, and the AutoCrit editor will show you every passage where you’ve used them in quick succession, just in case you want to trim down and avoid sounding repetitive.
What's YOUR Score?
As we enter the Strong Writing category, we’re looking at adverbs – and the result for One Special Moment is very good indeed!
We do have quite a list to work through, here, but in the wider context of bestselling fiction, our gauge is already happy with the current state of the novel.
A few words picked out such as definitely, especially, clearly, and totally are often filler in prose, or easily swapped for stronger verbs – so those would make for good initial targets.
Otherwise, as the author, you should take the time to check through each adverb and decide whether they’re necessary (they could be entirely necessary in dialogue, for example) or if the reading experience would be more fluid without them.
And since we mentioned filler words, let’s see how One Special Moment holds out on that front!
We’ve jumped up into the red when it comes to filler, with that undoubtedly dominating in this area. Trailing far behind are overused words just, very, even, and that’s.
Filler words are considered filler when they can be removed from a sentence without impacting the readability or legibility of the prose. Sometimes they’re necessary, but more often than not they can simply be deleted (or removed through a very slight rewrite).
In the screenshot below, we can see a page of One Special Moment that features a smattering of our biggest offender.
Our comparison points out that for a novel of this length, we’d expect to see around 89 fewer instances of that, and this particular page includes a couple that could definitely be excised.
On the other hand, some are indeed necessary – for example “… he would agree to use that appeal …”
Ultimately, the decision is yours when editing – but filler is definitely one of those places where it doesn’t pay to get too attached to your darlings.
Moving on, we’re looking at Showing vs. Telling.
In terms of showing vs. telling, we’re once again back in the red with our initial gauge.
One thing it’s important to understand about this report is that the words detected are indicators that telling may be happening in that sentence or passage.
Our top three for overuse in One Special Moment are a solid trifecta: know, knew, and felt.
These are good examples because exposition in prose will often tell the reader that a character knows something or feels something, instead of showing the reader those facts through dialogue, body language, or general behavior.
(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.)
Selecting the word feeling from the list, we took a quick hop through the manuscript and came across the kind of instance you’d want to think about while editing your own work:
“The anger she was feeling was openly expressed on her features.”
This line might look like a show on the surface (because it mentions expressions and features), but the fact that it’s very surface level means it’s walking quite precariously on the line of telling. Could there be, perhaps, character attributes that could more subtly clue the reader into how angry the character is? Facial expressions or personal tics that could be set up earlier, building a deeper connection with the reader and leading to a more organic understanding of how she feels?
Adding a few more detailed brush strokes can really help bring things to life. There’s always a balance to be had, though, so use your best judgment as a writer.
Winding up this category, we find One Special Moment contains a mere 1.13% of detected redundancies in the manuscript, and 5.06% of cliché phrases. Clichés in particular are often completely unavoidable since their validity as an actual cliché can change depending on the context within which they’re written – so these are excellent results for Brenda Jackson.
Taking a similar approach to the concept of showing vs. telling, next up we’re looking out for broad brush strokes with the generic descriptions report.
Initially, the results aren’t bad at all. It’s always worth remembering that AutoCrit’s “average” scale is in comparison to a database of actual bestselling fiction – so even at the average mark you’re in very good company!
Our most frequently used generic descriptors here are good and look, and by some margin.
Inside the manuscript, we discover a passage containing solid examples of when highlights might be useful, and when you might want to ignore them:
“His gaze suddenly became serious.”
Here we have broad brush strokes. If the conversation is serious, can that be derived from the dialogue itself without interrupting? The words being said certainly feel that way.
Later, however, the words good and serious appear in dialogue – and that’s often fine. Dialogue is the playpen of characters, and if their words sound legitimate, then that’s enough.
Next up is initial names and pronouns…
A straight 50% of sentences in One Special Moment begin with either a character name or a pronoun – a statistic that falls in line with what we’ve come to expect from most novels.
The reason you might want to keep an eye on your percentage here is so readers don’t get annoyed with constant repetition of pronouns at the beginning of sentences. It can lead to choppy, staccato writing that lacks the musical variety of enjoyable prose.
This doesn’t mean, however, that repeatedly using pronouns to start your sentences throughout a passage isn’t a legitimately useful technique. See the following excerpt, for example, which repeats his multiple times, but with a definite (and successful) artistic intent: demonstrating a sudden physical attraction.
Moving on, we can see One Special Moment is very consistent in its third person point of view, and is obviously written in past tense. These charts demonstrate a good, consistent split – you will always have some variation, mostly in dialogue which can naturally vary between past, present, and future tense.
Just be sure that your intended overall narrative point of view and tense are represented with greater frequency than others.
When it comes to our other kind of sentence starters – conjunctions such as and, but, so and the like – One Special Moment contains a total of 11.62% of sentences that begin in such a way.
This is slightly higher than other novels we’ve inspected, but whether or not it feels like too much is entirely up to the reader. As a combined total between this percentage and the 50% of sentences with initial pronouns and names, it doesn’t feel particularly overwhelming.
If you’re a romance fan, why not give the book a read and let us know if you picked up on any annoying repetition in sentence structure? Comments are at the bottom of this article!
Moving on to the emotional impact of One Special Moment, we (hardly unexpectedly) find this romantic tryst sporting a strong leaning toward lust, encouragement, and fear.
This is an extremely common combination for a love story – the lust and encouragement of a heartwarming romance, backed up by the fearful elements of any drama (think the standard girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl and boy reunite structure).
Jackson is writing to an audience looking for a romantic tale, and emotionally, that’s just what she’s delivered.
Pacing & Momentum
With just 3.25% of slow-paced paragraphs detected in the manuscript, Jackson is taking you on a romantic train ride that rarely seems to falter.
Looking at our graph, we can see a few slower red blocks (at the bottom) that look to be loosely placed around shifts in story act. Realistically, that’s to be expected – we can’t see much of great concern here at all.
Well… except for one unexpectedly gigantic paragraph sitting right in the middle! It stands out simply by virtue of its comparative size to the rest of the book, so we used our paragraph variation report to pick it out and see what’s going on.
It’s actually not a huge worry. The paragraph is intentionally so long because it’s a character reading out the contents of a written article.
From a visual perspective, though, it does become an unexpected wall of text among the prose, so might benefit from a simple split into two or three paragraphs – but that’s a total nitpick.
Getting into the statistics, we find once again that bestselling writers tend to stick to smaller sentences on average. The vast majority of sentences in One Special Moment contain fewer than 20 words, with an average of 11 words per sentence throughout the book.
Paragraphs fall in at an average of 31 words per paragraph, the majority of which contain less than 25.
The Flesh Reading Ease score for One Special Moment calculates at 79, meaning it’s considered fairly easy to read – just about general conversational English with few complex words.
Readability is always something to keep in mind for mass market appeal, with most novels aiming for a Flesch readability score above 70. This might seem difficult for a sci-fi writer, for example, whose work is packed with technical description and complex terminology, but there are many ways to increase readability without losing those details.
For more information on how Flesch Reading Ease is determined, and what you can do to make your writing more readable, take a look at the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests entry on Wikipedia and check out our Deep Dive Live video on the topic on YouTube.
Genre Comparison Score
Finally, let’s switch AutoCrit’s comparison setting from General Fiction to Brenda Jackson’s forte: romance.
The result is a jump in score to 76.24. This is always a great sign, as the shift upward demonstrates your book is close in structure to what is expected of that genre.
But also… what if we actually compare One Special Moment to Brenda’s own AutoCrit author profile? This is one of her books, and if we wanted to write like she does, we’d hope our novel’s score would fall even more in line with her specific style, wouldn’t we?
The result is…
Our overall summary score takes a hop, skip, and a leap straight to 84.11. An excellent finishing point!
If you’d like to write a romantic novel like Brenda Jackson does, you can compare your writing style directly with hers right now when you join AutoCrit Pro!
Receive all of the same recommendations you see in this article, plus more, all fine-tuned and adjusted so you can more closely match the word use and emotional power of the writers who inspired you to pick up the pen.
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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!