1. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    'Sticky' writing

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by baboonfish, Feb 16, 2021.

    I've been using Pro Writing Aid recently, its a useful tool for sure, but I have come 'unstuck' with the sticky writing tool. All my writing seems to be in the mid to high 40% bracket, the program suggests under 40%. I've analysed my writing in some of my stories to death and I have to admit I DO have a bad habit of overusing simple words, often using more words than required.

    However, I'm not sure how much faith to put in the blanket 'Don't overuse the 50 most common words or your piece will be hard to read' approach. For a start the voice in some of my stories is a very simple one, the characters just would not use flowery, descriptive language so even cutting out the unnecessary words I am unlikely to get it below 45% sticky. Any one else been down this path?
    Cheers all
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    What do the human readers say?
     
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  3. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Mostly that they'd rather look at their phones than read a story. Not finding it easy to get much feedback if I'm honest, hence the need for software. If anyone wants to take a look I'd be more than happy to quid pro quo. I'm looking for somebody to develop a long term mutual writer buddy relationship with eventually.
     
  4. TJ Waters

    TJ Waters Member

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    I have never used a writing aid. I rely on my own judgement and other people as Homer suggested. I have heard of someone putting a bestseller into a writing aid and it did not score well either. My thoughts are to tailor it to your target market. If your characters would not use flowery language then you wouldn't want to use to more words than required. But I'm not sure I understand why cutting out the unnecessary words would not get the result you are looking for.
     
  5. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    I've wondered about putting well regarded works into it for an experiment. It's hard to explain how difficult it is to get from say 46% to 40% 'sticky' words. It is possible but takes as long as the actual writing took, because once you've got a draft you're happy with it becomes a case of chopping words here and there, rephrasing etc, none of which makes a vast difference to the %, once you've cut the chaff. But the reason for my post is really to try and find out if its necessary. I can see I've got a habit that needs working on and 'reigning in' but to get below 40% would be a huge difference in my style.
     
  6. TJ Waters

    TJ Waters Member

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    Bear in mind, most best sellers are simple and easy to read. So it depends on your target market. With out knowing your style it's hard to say if you need to alter. Perhaps you can post a sample of your work, so we can see what we think.
     
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  7. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Sure. Here are a few paragraphs that the progam says are particularly 'sticky', except the first three sentences, which all pass muster. I've redrafted and redrafted and I am actually very happy with the whole thing, but alas, computer says no....

    His hair was jet black, short and slicked from a ferocious widow’s peak. Three-day stubble hid a handsome, rugged face with a wicked, childish smile. Fierce coal-black eyes looked out from narrow sockets. His age was hard to place, maybe a young man, Cooper’s age, who’d had it rough, or an older man blessed with good genes and an even better lifestyle. But he saw knowing in those eyes, not like a young man’s.

     Freddie said, “I been lookin’ for a new friend, maybe you that man. We’ll see. You wanna take a walk with me, I’ll buy you somethin’ t’ eat and a few beers?” Cooper nodded slowly. As the high wore off, his stomach was waking up, growling like a dog with something to protect. He thought it over. If he didn’t sell the last of his gear he was out of money. That cold, mean old juke was in the post, coming in on the horizon like a desert storm across the mountains. Soon he wouldn’t be thinking about food for a long time.
     
  8. TJ Waters

    TJ Waters Member

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    First off, I really like it. Good imagery! You may not need to change anything. I think you are a very visual writer so you like to get the most out of your descriptive words. Your target market may not have a problem with this at all, so I'd get someone who is your target market to read it.

    However, as an exercise, I'm going to make a few suggestions.

    1) Remove wicked or childish, which is it?
    2) Remove coal. There's only one black eye colour
    3) Period after place.
    4) Replace maybe with perhaps
    5) Do you need "We'll see"?
    6) Do you need "with something to protect"? It sounds a bit like a darling.
    7) That cold, mean old juke was in the post, coming in on the horizon like a desert storm across the mountains. Can you lose an adjective? EDIT: Can you loose either the adjectives or the metaphor?

    But nice work!
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2021
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  9. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Thanks, very kind of you to take the time with some interesting suggestions. I will give all that a go as an experiment and let you know the results!
     
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  10. Murkie

    Murkie Active Member

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    I like it too! I ran your paragraphs through Grammarly and the bold section was the only part it complained about, saying it was 'repetitive' and suggested changing the word order. But you're describing 3 separate features and I think it works well, so if those were my words, I'd hit the ignore button on Grammarly and call it a day.
     
  11. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Nice one! Ive not used Grammarly, have you used Pro Writing Aid? What made you decide for one over the other? I'm on a free trial and can't imagine being without one now, editing not being a strong suit of mine.
     
  12. Murkie

    Murkie Active Member

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    I'd only heard of Grammarly, to be honest. I started using the browser version and then upgraded. I agree with you about editing with it - I stick nearly everything I write in there, but I'll always use the most lenient rules and I overrule it quite a lot! :D
     
  13. Idiosyncratic

    Idiosyncratic Member

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    The sticky word concept is pretty interesting, words that are necessary to build a sentence (the 'glue, so to speak') but which don't add much meaning on their own. High sticky percentages point you in the direction of areas where you might be able to cut words when editing, but I wouldn't fret obsessively over them; after all, sometimes you have to use more to get the effect you want. That being said, I thought I'd throw out an example of lowering 'sticky word count' without changing your style too much. I don't have an exhaustive list of Prowriting aids sticky words, but I've highlighted the ones that I'm positive count in a sentence from your example (does off count? up? his? Maybe, idk)

    That 'was' in the middle is fairly easy to cut. It's clear that 'waking up' is simultaneous with the high wearing off, so you don't lose any meaning by changing it from past continuous 'was waking' to simple past 'woke'.

    As the high wore off, his stomach woke up, growling like a dog with something to protect.

    If you wanted to get rid of more, you could switch 'a dog with something to protect' to 'a protective dog'. Here, the literal meaning does change, but since this is a metaphor for the sound of a growling stomach, it evokes an identical sound as the original.

    As the high wore off, his stomach woke up, growling like a protective dog.


    Are these changes for the better? Up to you to decide (Though I am definitely a fan of 'was waking' to 'woke') but I was hoping to clarify that you don't need to write more complex, flowery descriptive sentences or use bigger words to reduce your sticky word percentages.
     
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  14. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Thanks for the suggestions. This is turning into a very useful exercise because it's a passage I am very happy with, yet there are improvements to make. I am only analysing it because writing aid is suggesting it's sticky, so its a great example to use and shows there's rarely a passage which can't be improved. The question then becomes how much time should one spend editing a piece opposed to writing, but that's another debate! I've settled on the following, taking into account the suggestions....

    His hair was jet black and slicked from a ferocious widow’s peak. Three-day stubble hid a handsome, rugged face with a wicked, childish smile. Fierce coal eyes looked out from narrow sockets. His age was hard to place. Perhaps a young man, Cooper’s age, who’d had it rough, or an older man blessed with good genes and an even better lifestyle. But he saw knowing in those eyes, not like a young man’s.

    Freddie said, “I been lookin’ for a new friend, maybe you that man. You wanna take a walk with me, I’ll buy you somethin’ t’ eat and a few beers?” Cooper nodded slowly. As the high wore off, his stomach awoke, growling like a dog with something to protect. He thought it over. If he didn’t sell the last of his gear, he was out of money. That cold, mean old juke was in the post, coming off the horizon like a desert storm across the mountains. Soon he wouldn’t be thinking about food for a long time.

    PWA still thinks its quite sticky but I'm going to tell it to shush its noise. Thanks guys.
     
  15. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    Here's my edit.

    His jet black hair slicked away from a ferocious widow’s peak. He showed three-day stubble hiding a rugged face, a wicked smile, fierce coal eyes set in narrow sockets. His age was hard to place, perhaps close to Cooper’s; he might be a youth who’d had it rough, or an older man blessed with good genes and an even better lifestyle. And yet Cooper saw knowing in those eyes. They weren't a young man’s.

    Freddie said, “Been lookin’ for a new friend. Maybe you that man. You wanna take a walk with me, I’ll buy you somethin’ t’ eat, a few beers?”

    Cooper nodded slowly. As the high wore off, his stomach awoke, growling like a guard dog. He thought it over. If he didn’t sell the last of his gear, he'd be broke. That cold, mean old juke was in the post, coming off the horizon like a desert storm across the mountains, and then there wouldn't be time to eat.
    I mainly tried to commit to single images rather than pairs.

    So they call it "stickiness?" I've never seen this concept called that in any book. I think it's more of a grammar-program metric. It looks like they're just counting the % of common words in your total. So things like "a" and "the" are adding to the percent. You can't necessarily delete those. That would often be an awful over-correction. Really, it's a problem with poor phrasing (when it even is a problem, I don't think your phrasing was bad).

    Their algorithm seems a bit simplistic to me. I do agree 100% with the concept. It's what I start with when rewriting sentences, but for me it's not about reducing the common words. It's more about making the phrases succinct. It is a cool metric though. If I owned this, I'd probably look at it too. I just wonder how much you can trust it.
     
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  16. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Good points. Indeed its all just a metric of the program, I guess I'm trying to work out how far I consider it and y'all been very helpful with that!
     
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  17. TJ Waters

    TJ Waters Member

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    You made some nice subtle edits and haven't changed the tone at all. What does the writing aid say now?
     
  18. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    What do you expect the software to tell you? I liked the opening and would continue reading? I don't understand the guy in the red hat's motivation? It might give you some information as to the order, frequency, or subjective algorithmic strength of the words, but not whether it's a story worth reading.
     
  19. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    That's why personally I don't use these kinds of aids. I think they stifle creativity by forcing people to rigidly conform to 'correct' writing. The only significant test of any merit (in my own opinion) is the subjective read, not the objective technical perfection. My favourite writers would have failed any writing algorithms dramatically. And, had they used them, their writing would have been rubbish because their voice was a critical part of the experience. I'd say toss out the software and focus on the feel of the read. But that's just me.
     
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  20. Shannon Davidson

    Shannon Davidson Member

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    I have this issue. I suspect we all do. I look at it in phases. Phase one, just write it. These overused words can act as placeholders until you go back to edit. Phase two, I read it and start rewording things. The most obvious is using "said." He said, Charlies said, said the woman, etc. So I rework my sentences to eliminate it by moving that to somewhere between my character's monologue, and/or turn it into an action. Phase three, I use Read Aloud. The computer voice is pretty good, and I catch things that sound repetitive or corny that I missed otherwise. Hearing it really makes it stand out. Phase four, skilled beta readers who are qualified to catch that stuff and make recommendations.

    Ultimately though, don't rely to much on rules and guidelines or you loose your incentive and creativity. If it sounds good to your ear, then go with it. Just try to avoid cliche's as much as possible. I hate seeing writers using things like "at the end of the day," or "all in all," stuff like that. It's lazy, IMHO, as a finished product, but again, can be a temporary place holder to let you keep going and remind you of what you were going for when you go back later to review.
     
  21. zoupskim

    zoupskim Contributor Contributor

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    Hm.

    I'm an asshole, so ignore this, but this is what I'd do.

    1st of all change it to 1st person perspective. 1st is better. Full stop. Some stories require 3rd person, like huge historical documents with narratives spanning centuries, but for person-to-person do 1st.

    His age was hard to place, perhaps close to mine. He might be a youth who’d had it rough, or an older man blessed with good genes and an even better lifestyle. His jet black hair slicked away from a ferocious widow’s peak. He showed three-day stubble hiding a rugged face, a wicked smile, fierce coal eyes set in narrow sockets. Cooper saw knowing in those eyes. They weren't a young man’s.

    I moved the physical description in the middle, because its more interesting to start with ANYTHING else. Physical descriptions are boring. Introspection or emotion are better.

    Freddie said, “Been lookin’ for a new friend. Maybe you that man. You wanna take a walk with me? I’ll buy you somethin’ t’ eat. A few beers?”

    This dialog is slick. I just replaced the commas. You don't really need them.

    I nodded slowly. The high was wearing off, my stomach growling like a guard dog. If I didn’t sell the last of his gear I'd be broke. That cold, mean old juke was in the post, coming off the horizon like a desert storm. There wouldn't be time to eat.

    You've got this curt style going, UNTIL this last paragraph. Keep it curt. Also, you show me a horizon then a mountain. I only need one. Mention the mountain later.
     
  22. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Pro writing aid (and gramarly and auto crit and every other such program) are useful tools but you shouldn't follow their advice slavishly, because they are sometimes plain wrong, and even when they're not actually wrong it can be a matter of style... nothing beats a human editor (If you can't afford an editor then beta readers)

    what is probably triggering PWA here is the number of adverbs in the first line... however "adverbs bad" is the sort of simplistic rule that make these programs flawed so you shouldn't remove them just to please the program

    "His hair was jet black, short and slicked from a ferocious widow’s peak. Three-day stubble hid a handsome, rugged face with a wicked, childish smile. Fierce coal-black eyes looked out from narrow sockets.

    I'd say however that there are two larger contradictions here that are more important that the stickyness... a) if the face is hidden how does cooper know that's its handsome and rugged ... b) Likewise you say that his age was hard to place, that he could be young or old, but then go on to tell us that his eyes are not young... thus his age is not actually hard to place

    also i'd suggest that the sort of detailed workshoping of the piece you are getting here is whats needed and is more valuable than PWA, but ideally you should put a longer extract of the piece in the workshop
     
  23. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber Contributor Contributor

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    Ever read any Hemingway?
     
  24. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Thanks for the advice regards PWA, you're right I'm sure. Unfortunately I've struggled to find beta readers so far, and i've been in an accelerated learning process so PWA has been quite useful for some things. I feel good human feedback is essential for my next stage of development. Anyway, back to the point of the thread.

    No it's not the adverbs, PWA makes a clear distinction between 'good' and 'bad'. My only regular quarrel with PWA concerns its perception of sticky writing. PWA considers sticky to be overuse of the 50 most common words.

    Regards your feedback on the passage's potential contradictions, I respectfully disagree. My narrator is omniscient, so while Cooper is getting some of these details, partially unfurling as he examines the face, the reader has access to more. I feel like we're edging into slightly counter productive over analysis territory now as I'm concerned about sentence structure and language. For me the interesting takeaway has been that a passage I already felt was strong, I've found numerous ways to improve, with help of course. Hopefully giving me some more tools to analyse my own work too. I think it's been fascinating to take a small section out of context (Zoupskim - it was not my story opening by the way), and get feedback on the sentence structure and language. In terms of the whole piece, yes work shopping could be very valuable and I note with interest the rules have changed so I will make use of this.

    If anything, this little exercise has shown what makes writing so fundamentally exciting, with almost endless ways to describe anything. I can see how writers fall down the rabbit hole of perfection at a sentence structure level, but I don't wish to follow that path. That means sometimes (or more likely almost always) accepting imperfection. But equally, it shows me almost every passage I write can be improved, which is exciting and daunting in itself.

    My main interest in life was always music, hence why I took up writing only seriously at 41. I love to compare the two and I feel the 'common' words are like the common chords like your a minor, g major etc. Most songs are built around those, they are nearly impossible to avoid, but just using those can be very dull. However, unlike the musician, we as writers in English have a vast array of 'chords' in our arsenal. Pity the musician with only 12 measly notes!
     
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  25. SapereAude

    SapereAude Member

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    My take (for what it's worth, remembering what yiou paid for it):

    Question: who saw knowing in those eyes? Cooper? Unless that was established in something that came before this snippet, I think this part is unclear. Beyond that, it's a bit of a run-on sentence. I think I'd suggest the following as a possible edit:

    His age was hard to place. He might have been as young as Cooper but a man who had led a rough life, or he might have been an older man blessed with good genes and an even better lifestyle. But Cooper thought he detected the wisdom of age in those eyes, not the innocence and naivete of a young man.
     

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