Just in time for Valentine’s Day, #1 New York Times bestselling romance author Robyn Carr joins the AutoCrit family as she claims a space inside our Compare to Fiction selection!
Writer of several critically acclaimed series including the Virgin River, Grace Valley, Thunder Point, and Sullivan’s Crossing sagas, Robyn has also seen her work adapted for television by Netflix with further adaptations in the works.
So today, let’s take a trip to Virgin River as 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
Using the General Fiction comparison preset, Virgin River‘s summary score comes out at a healthy 79.77 – right inside the range we expect based on previous investigations of other books.
(Click here to catch up with the rest of our bestseller breakdowns if you’re new to the blog.)
Looking at the fingerprint analysis, we can see that our main focus should go to the Strong Writing and Word Choice categories, respectively, with Repetition coming in third.
Trailing a distant fourth is dialogue, so let’s start there.
Robyn’s use of dialogue tags sticks to the common wisdom of relying mostly on said and asked where possible. But there may be room to dive more heavily into that ethos given around a full quarter of tags throughout the novel take a different form.
What might that form be? Let’s see…
Looking at the most frequently used tags, you might be surprised to see said and asked marked in red. This means AutoCrit has determined they’re overused compared to what you would generally find in a fiction novel of a similar length.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, as some novels are more dialogue-heavy than others, but it does provide opportunity to check your scenes for moments where you could remove dialogue tags entirely without breaking the flow of the conversation. More often than not, this is entirely possible.
Among the more uncommon overused dialogue tags, we can see laughed, answered, whispered, grinned, and observed. These should definitely be looked at with a view to swapping them out. Laughed, for example, can almost always be removed as a tag in favor of describing the character laughing alongside the dialogue.
Grinned is an odd one, as people generally don’t grin words. People may grin, but that’s a physical movement and not directly associated with speech itself.
While looking through the manuscript, one tag stood out as particularly odd: supplied.
As a dialogue tag, supplied feels quite out of place and would make a prime candidate for a trim.
Now let’s take a look at Carr’s use of adverbs in dialogue…
The percentage of adverbs in dialogue is nice and low here, at just 5.79%. Since it doesn’t even begin to fill the meter, we wouldn’t expect a ton of work to go into any tidying here.
But we will of course still take a peek at the word-level recommendations!
Coming up within the overused words, we have softly, flatly, breathlessly, bravely, appreciatively, and hoarsely.
What’s most crucial, though, is that (as we expected) none of them have a ton of recommended removals or adjustments – and when considered within the context of a romantic novel, changes may not be necessary at all.
How would we know that? AutoCrit can tell – but we’ll get to that at the end of our breakdown.
Stepping into the repetition category, we’re on the lookout for passages where the same words are repeated in close proximity. These sections may stand out to a reader because they offer what feels like the same information again and again.
An average frequency of 4.87 repeated words per page isn’t very alarming. That’s good – but our work with repetition primarily takes place with the help of AutoCrit’s highlighting inside the manuscript.
Right at the beginning of the novel, we can see repetition of the words road, wheel, and heard:
This example is indeed a minor issue, but perhaps taking the second half of the paragraph (the wheel spinning) could be presented in a more visual manner rather than relying on the audible (heard) input once more. Think of it cinematically, like moving the camera to a different space to vary your angles.
Doing so could help add a bit of spice to the setup and remove the repetition.
The above word clouds help illustrate the most frequently used words and phrases throughout Virgin River – all of which are either character names or appropriate to the setting, which plays a role in itself.
Resting right between “good” and “great,” the adverb-o-meter tells us we won’t have a long stretch of editing ahead of us when it comes to adverbs. Great stuff.
Let’s take a look at the word level, shall we?
Even though the meter reading is pleasant, there’s still some work to do. The adverbs completely, gently, softly, and slightly appear to be favorites for Robyn, and they’re recommended for a trim.
We also came across an instance of immediately that could go (referencing the refrigerator light) – but it’s worth bearing in mind that adverbs such as gently and softly are likely to be more common than usual in a romantic atmosphere so may not require much action when you’re in editing mode.
As always, use AutoCrit’s highlights to guide your hand, but never to force it. If changes don’t make sense to you or lessen the feelings you want to create, then stick to your creative guns.
Next up is unnecessary filler words, and our first foray into the red zone…
Similar to what we saw in Dead Sea Rising by Jerry Jenkins, the most common filler word in Carr’s novel isn’t actually overused.
Instead, those due for a trim include just, very, that’s, really, seems, and seem. The word just in particular features more than 200 recommended removals, so this is definitely an area requiring some attention and a nice big mug of coffee.
It won’t always be possible to cut out the full amount that AutoCrit recommends. It could, for example, stunt dialogue that you’ve spent a long time crafting, but it’s definitely worth the effort to tidy up where you can.
Finally, this section finishes up with numbers similar to those we’ve come to expect for clichés and redundancies. Neither stands out as anything of major concern, so that’s excellent.
For a comparison, be sure to check out the rest of the What’s the Score series here.
We’re back in the red zone when it comes to generic descriptions here, so we’ll need to take a deeper look inside the manuscript and figure out what might be going on
First, though, let’s see which words are standing out:
There’s a decent string of generic words, there, including good, looked, look, big, maybe, pretty, and nice. If these are used in description, there could be plenty of opportunity to add more life or a greater sense of character.
As you can see in the above example, however, sometimes generic description can work for a more casual or colloquial narration. Yes, mentioning a very good salary doesn’t give us a whole lot of solid information in context of relative wealth – but do we actually need that much depth to understand that the character enjoys pampering herself and has the cash to do it?
Arguments could be made either way. Your discretion as the author is key – if the information is important to the character in terms of their station or positioning against others, then you might want to make sure you’ve got a little bit more in there.
The percentage of Carr’s sentences that begin with an initial pronoun or name comes in at a hearty 50.54%. We don’t tend to see many novels creeping multiple percentage points above 50, so this is right in line with expectations.
The same can be said for sentence starters, which at 9.83% hovers around the 10% benchmark.
Finally for this section we have the Virgin River power words profile.
In a photo finish, we have leading emotions of encouragement, lust, and fear – just what you’d expect to see in a heartwarning romantic drama. Lovely.
(Always remember that emotions come in different forms, so fear isn’t only reserved for outright horror. It can be disappointment, getting let down by someone, anxiety and tension, loss of a loved one etc.)
POV and Tense
At a quick glance, we can easily tell that Virgin River is written from a third person perspective. Additional markers for first and second person will come from dialogue.
Since the dominance of third person is so large, there are unlikely to be any major foundational problems with Point of View that we’d need to tackle.
And when it comes to tense, we have a solid split between past and present tense (with a tiny bit of future).
With experience, you’ll get more used to making quick decisions based on these pie charts. What we can say right now, though, is that Virgin River will have a past tense narrative with present tense dialogue – the most common kind of fiction setup.
Pacing & Momentum
Carr appears to keep Virgin River rolling along at a cracking pace, with just 2.43% of paragraphs detected as slower paced.
In the lower image you can see slower paced paragraphs marked as red blocks at the bottom of the graph. In this case, two chunky sections stand out. One looks to be around the end of the first act, and another seems to come around the time of the climax.
Both of these are probably perfectly acceptable. It’s only natural to see a slight pacing shift after we’ve jumped into act two, and a story’s climax is generally followed by falling action as things come back down to settle in their new state.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to take some time to check out those sections and see if you can thin those blocks out a little by turning up the tempo.
In terms of both readability and pacing, sentences can start to become a problem once they go for longer than 30 words. Carr obviously has a handle on this, with the vast majority of sentences in Virgin River coming in at under 10 words long.
Most authors we’ve investigated appear to produce around double the number of <10-word sentences as those between 10-19 words, and then trail off exponentially from there. Something to keep in mind for your own work!
With a Flesch Reading Ease score of 87, Virgin River is considered easy to read and could be handled by readers at a 6th grade level.
In fact, it’s on the borderline (90) of the “very easy” category. This, coupled with its impressive pacing, tells us that Virgin River is one of those books that’ll keep romance fans turning pages well into the night on the promise of “just one more chapter.”
Genre Comparison Score
Finally, let’s see what happens when we put Virgin River through AutoCrit’s Compare to Fiction analysis.
This time, the comparison setting is, of course, Romance!
Choosing this option will set AutoCrit’s analysis within the context of our extensive database of bestselling romance – changing the recommendations and adjusting the score based on how those at the top of the game write their stories.
Drum roll please…
Now that’s a jump!
As you can see, Virgin River‘s score rockets to an incredibly solid 83.38.
The fact that such a dramatic change occurs shows this is most definitely a novel for romantic hearts. Carr uses the language of love – and it’s no surprise she has the accolades (and contracts) to prove it.
What do you think of our journey to Virgin River? Are you a fan of Robyn Carr’s romantic novels? What did you discover that you could apply to your own writing?
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