Earnest Hemingway, for instance, professed to hate adverbs, but used them more than I expected. I tried Joseph Conrad’s story, Karain: A Memory, expecting a high occurrence of adverbs. Conrad was a master of description. He portrayed life in an oriental jungle with a colorful realism that makes me feel as though I am in the boat, sailing up a tropical river, and observing fellow passengers, the luxuriant jungle lining the banks, and the creatures walking and crawling on the shore and swimming in the water. I tested the first two paragraphs of the story through Hemingway Editor and to my surprise I found that even though Conrad's adverb score exceeded what H-E considered proper, Conrad did not use very many adverbs—as few as any writer I recall reading. Conrad was stingy in his use of the passive voice, as well.
On the other hand, Conrad loved adjectives. It is hard to find a noun in his writing not modified by at least one adjective.
Below are Conrad’s scores for Karain in its entirety, calculated by Hemingway Editor:
Long sentences, another pitfall flagged by H-E, are another “error” that novice writers are warned against. Conrad, however, used sentences as though they were musical phrases, to be squeezed or stretched as occasion demands. Words are like sequences of notes. They can be long or short or even silent, as in rests. He composed melodies, even symphonies, of paragraphs and sentences that evoke in the reader echos of forgotten exotic places, along with sights, sensations and feelings. He achieves that effect by loading his nouns with colorful adjectives and choosing his verbs carefully.
To illustrate, here are the first two paragraphs of Karain that I ran through H-E:
As you can observe, Conrad wrote long sentences marked as “Very hard to read.” It is probable that this assessment is based on length. Although most of Conrad’s short works were published in magazines, it would be much harder to get them published today. Long sentences are a negative factor in judging whether a story or novel will be published. Consuming hours of television, motion pictures and Internet content, it is reasoned, has shortened 21st Century readers’ attention spans, and made it more difficult and tedious for the average reader to follow.
Nevertheless, H-E assigns a difficulty level of grade 7 for the entire story, which it considers to be easy reading. And it is pleasant and easy to read because Conrad’s sentence structures are usually plain and his choice of words is well within the vocabulary of the ordinary person.
My conclusion: Hemingway Editor is a useful advisor but a bad boss. I run my articles and essays through it just before the final draft to see if everything is ok. It will usually point out a few places that need revising.
You can purchase Hemingway Editor for Mac and Windows at http://www.hemingwayapp.com/desktop.html for $19.99. You can also try out the online version free at http://www.hemingwayapp.com.html. It’s definitely worth looking at.
You might also enjoy trying out Slick Write, which is free, but only available online. Slick Write has a slightly different algorithm with some different “mistakes” marked, such as excessive prepositional phrases, wordy or redundant phrases, adverbs, sentences with passive voice, plus improvable sentence structures, and word usage. Settings allow you to determine which errors it should mark. For instance, it will tell you when you might be using a word too many times. It nailed me for using the definite article “the” far too frequently. You can use it at https://www.slickwrite.com by pasting your document into the browser window. There are plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome.
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