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 taking on the latest novel from an international bestseller: thriller writer Karin Slaughter!
Now let’s say hello to The Silent Wife…
Please note this article contains short excerpts from the book, which you may want to avoid looking too closely at 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, The Silent Wife comes home with a nice summary score of 76.68.
(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. This is a very common spread for a full length novel.
As a rule of thumb, dialogue tags should be restricted to said and asked as much as possible. The Silent Wife, however, appears to throw this to the wind, with an almost 50/50 split between those tags and alternatives.
That’s quite a lot, so let’s take a look at the individual words at play here.
Okay, the first thing you might notice here is that many of these words obviously aren’t dialogue tags. We have words such as turned, looked, waited, and pointed.
Surely a writer of such stature as Karin Slaughter wouldn’t be using these words to tag dialogue, so let’s jump into the manuscript and see what’s going on…
Alright! As we can see, Slaughter actually doesn’t use very many dialogue tags. Similar to other thriller authors, she punctuates lines of dialogue with action from her characters.
However, since the verbs denoting the action are very close to dialogue, AutoCrit’s AI picks them up as a potential dialogue tag.
In the sidebar word list, we can see that these verbs aren’t actually causing us any big problems (the most overused word is asked, which is right on point for what we’d expect given the dialogue tag “rule”.)
Even though that’s the case, we can still tell AutoCrit to ignore the words we don’t want to see in this report. Taking the list of incorrect verbs, we dropped them into our “Words to Exclude” list, seen here:
With our list cleaned up, we then came out with a report of the genuine dialogue tags throughout The Silent Wife.
As expected, the only genuine recommendations we discovered were regarding asked (remove about 74 instances) and explained.
This is a tremendous result for Slaughter, who appears to be exceptionally skilled when it comes to placing dialogue in such a manner that the story flows around it, never dropping the pace.
It’s also worth keeping the “Words to Exclude” function in mind when editing your own manuscripts. If you ever notice AutoCrit’s AI (side note: don’t worry, we’re always improving it!) picking up verbs close to dialogue that aren’t actually dialogue tags, you can exclude them from your reporting and edit unimpeded.
If you were wondering about whether this has an effect on the summary score, the answer is yes, it does – but since very, very few of these verbs were detected as overused, the difference is minimal. In the case of The Silent Wife, excluding these verbs from the dialogue reporting changes the score from 76.68 to 77.33. Nothing to lose sleep over.
Moving on, let’s see how Karin Slaughter fares when it comes to putting adverbs in here dialogue tags.
With just seven adverbs attached to a dialogue tag, The Silent Wife makes for another historic What’s the Score entry alongside Lee Child’s Blue Moon.
This gives the manuscript a less than 1% volume of detected adverbs in dialogue.
So what can we learn from Slaughter and Child? Having adverbs in your dialogue tags is a problem that’s easily avoided by simply not using dialogue tags in the first place!
Out of interest, let’s take a look at the adverbs Slaughter did let through in this novel…
Again, these detected words may be incorrectly mapped due to their close proximity to dialogue, so we took a quick look inside the manuscript itself. The word practically stands out as a strange one, so what’s the deal there?
Note that not a single one of these adverbs are detected as overused, so we don’t really need to do anything about them, but we can see that Slaughter did indeed use practically to alter the nature of a dialogue tag (“practically yelled”) which is a stylistic choice and not a problem at all.
In the end, it’s a top result for dialogue!
Looking at the word and phrase frequency, we can see the most often-used single words are character names, with Sara and Jeffrey leading the pack.
When it comes to phrases, there are very few that stand out above all others. It’s a nice spread, showing that Slaughter definitely keeps up the variety throughout her novel.
Compare this to the dialogue-heavy Blue Moon by Lee Child, for example, where the phrase “Reacher said” was the most common phrase by a huge margin.
When it came to our other repetition reports, after some time searching we found nothing of concern in terms of word frequency. When editing your own work, you would, for example, want to look out for passages where you’re using the same word over and over again.
A couple of instances would be fine, but repeating the same word continuously can make it stand out and become detrimental to the reading experience. In the case of The Silent Wife, we couldn’t find any such issues.
What's YOUR Score?
Moving away from dialogue and into the general use of adverbs throughout The Silent Wife, initial impressions are very good indeed!
But to get to the meat of the matter, we need to drill down to the word level…
There are quite a few overused words, but the numbers recommended for removal are relatively low, which keeps the adverbs score at a positive measure between good and great.
Leading the way are really, probably and already, with probably having a recommendation of 41 removals. That’s almost half the number contained in the manuscript.
If you’re wondering where the recommendation comes from, it’s based on the average number of times the word probably would appear in a bestselling novel of a similar length. Since we’re using AutoCrit’s General Fiction setting, this average is drawn from the content of millions of published books across all major genres.
In our screenshot, you can see a passage that contains a handful of adverbs. The word approximately could be a problem given it’s used twice in quick succession, but a closer look shows it’s part of character dialogue, and could be a specific quirk of that character. If it isn’t a quirk, however, the second approximately could be exchanged for a different word, such as around.
As always with AutoCrit, though, these decisions are yours to make. If you, the author, are happy with how the passage reads and don’t think changes would be beneficial, then we’d always encourage you to move on.
Speaking of moving on, let’s take a look at how The Silent Wife copes with unnecessary filler words…
We’re a little above average, here, with some serious volume when it comes to use of the word that.
Filler words such as that, then, just, and even can often be removed from most sentences without actually harming the clarity of your writing, so it’s always worth keeping an eye out for them.
That in particular is an extremely common filler word, so it’s not surprising to see it pop up here.
While 1,752 uses of that might seem extreme, expectations can be thwarted by real data, and that’s certainly the case once we take a look at our recommendations…
Just eight recommended removals out of 1,752!
The word that’s actually causing the most concern is, in fact, that’s – with 119 recommended removals out of 175 uses.
There’s a good opportunity here to bump up the score a little by removing or changing a handful of really and that. When it comes to that’s, the job would be a bigger one, so be prepared to spend some time combing through your highlights for instances that would make for an easy trim. It isn’t always possible to get right down to the exact number of recommended removals, so don’t feel too pressured.
Moving on, we’re looking at Showing vs. Telling.
We’re just above average when it comes to showing vs. telling indicators, which is actually a solid result. Leading the way here for overuse are could, know, and get.
One thing to understand about this report is that these words are indicators. AutoCrit uses them to draw your attention to passages that may be too expositional – telling the reader information instead of showing it to them in a more involving manner.
(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.)
Looking through the manuscript itself, we could find few instances where we’d actually be concerned about the storytelling (as you’d expect from a blockbuster author like Karin Slaughter!). In one early passage, as a light example, we have a character thinking about being late for a college meeting.
“… she knew that Dr. Adams would be annoyed if she didn’t show. This wasn’t high school. The professors could really screw with you if you wasted their time.”
With the concept of showing vs. telling in mind, something like this could be given a little more life if it painted a picture of how the professors could make life miserable for students who wasted their time. Perhaps an example of what happened to someone who did just that.
But on the other hand, the information itself isn’t entirely central to what’s going on in the scene. What we have is enough to run with, and that’s just fine.
As always, the choice is yours, author!
To finish this section, we can see The Silent Wife comes in with just 2.03% detected redundancies (words that repeat information the reader has already been given) and 4.59% of detected cliché phrases (which are often fine in dialogue). That’s a great result.
Moving over to the Word Choice category of reports, we’re starting out with generic descriptions.
Once more, we’re just above average, which is always a great starting point.
Our most frequently used generic descriptors here are looked and look. This is actually a solid position to be in when editing your own work, because this is the same word in different tenses.
But why is look or looked an indication of generic description? That’s easy enough to see with this example:
Sara looked tired.
Are there any better ways such a description could be given more detail, more distinction? How is Sara emoting, even gesturing or moving that would let the reader infer that she’s tired?
This ties in with showing vs. telling, as generic descriptions will often pop up when the author wants to paint detail into the scene, but uses very broad strokes with little fine detail.
As we mentioned earlier, sometimes that’s necessary to keep the pace moving. Nobody needs six paragraphs of every finer point about the decor in a setting, yet there’s always a balance to be found. The generic descriptions report is immensely useful for finding those moments where you could pen just a little more detail into the picture and draw the reader in more tightly.
Next up is initial names and pronouns…
One of the higher examples we’ve come across, 58.54% of sentences in The Silent Wife begin with a character name or pronoun. It’s quite unusual to see novels reaching this high, but in Slaughter’s book it isn’t a problem.
Yes, there are passages where almost every sentence begins with she, which might bug some readers, but functionally they perform just fine and aren’t crammed too close together.
Looking at the point of view and tense consistency of the novel, our pie charts below straight away indicate this is a novel written in the third person and past tense. This kind of chart split is almost exactly what you’d expect from such a novel, with a portion of tense being present and/or future due to dialogue.
While the proportion of sentences beginning with a pronoun or name is higher than usual in The Silent Wife, the number of sentences that begin with a conjunction (and, but, so etc.) sits right in the range we’ve come to expect, with just 4.68% of the total manuscript.
And finally for word choice, how about the emotional tone painted by Slaughter’s use of power words throughout The Silent Wife?
Where most novels tend to come in with three major emotions, The Silent Wife proudly pushes two: fear and encouragement. Lust, anger, and energy/excitement provide a backup trio to those.
Pacing & Momentum
A tiny 2.34% of paragraphs detected with slow pacing is an excellent result for The Silent Wife, which we can assure is indeed a pacey piece of work. Looking at our graph, we can see the slowest elements are clustered at the very beginning, and what looks to be the run-up to the climax.
For this particular book, this isn’t a problem at all. Generally you would want to start off with a bang and a sense of pace, but even though the opening here is a bit slower than the rest, it’s still involving, doesn’t waste time, and builds an initial sense of dread for a story that can get quite nasty at times.
Before we leave this section behind, here are some statistics to compare to your own stories. With an average of 9 words per sentence and 28 per paragraph, Slaughter keeps the writing snappy and rarely gets into complex or run-on territory.
Speaking of keeping it simple and snappy, the Flesh Reading Ease score for The Silent Wife comes in at 80, making it conversational English that should be fairly easy to read for the majority of the population.
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.
Genre Comparison Score
Coming from an initial General Fiction summary score of 76.68 (or 77.33 with our dialogue tag exclusions), let’s see what happens when we compare The Silent Wife to the rest of Karin Slaughter’s bibliography by switching to her AutoCrit author profile…
With Karin Slaughter chosen as our editing guide, we see an immediate jump to 80.77 – and that’s a great place to be. This upward shift tells us this is indeed a book written in a style that compares well to this author. It will, of course, never 100% match as no author writes the exact same book over and over again, but all indicators are on a positive trend. Great stuff!
If you’d like to try writing a thriller like Karin Slaughter, you can compare your writing style directly with hers right now when you join AutoCrit Pro!
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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!