Introducing Thoth: A Manuscript Evaluation Tool

I’ve been tinkering around with code to analyze my manuscripts for a few years, and I finally got serious enough about it to build a real-life application. I named the app Thoth after the Egyptian god of writing and magic (among other things).

After writing several bad books and getting helpful (though sometimes painful) feedback, I realized I had a number of tendencies that showed up as weak writing. I also figured since I’m a heavily experienced programmer, I could make my own revision process easier by setting up some logic to analyze my manuscripts and identify those weaknesses with fancy charts and whatnot.

I believe other writers could benefit from my code, and so I’ve released the initial beta version of the application here. It’s free to download and use!

Admittedly, it’s far from perfect. With my writing, I’m typically very reluctant to let anyone else see it until I’ve spent months revising it. This is essentially a first draft, and as we all know, all software has bugs. Mine is no exception. The format of the PDF report generated could be cleaner, and the text I coded in could be better written. Also, I wish the download process was a little faster and easier. (It’s not really that bad, I promise!)

I plan to work on improving on these weaknesses, as well as adding more features in the future. But cut me a break here, please – you have no idea how much fucking time I spent on Stackoverflow trying to figure out why matplotlib was crashing the app and why pyinstaller and plotly don’t play so nice together. ON MY BIRTHDAY NO LESS.

Even so, I think other writers should give it a try. Oh, hey, did I mention it’s TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY FREE.

Here are the reports generated within the PDF file:

  • Dialogue %
  • # of dialogue beats
  • Sentence fragments
  • Repetitive cadences
  • Unusual narrative punctuation
  • Adjectives/adverbs
  • ‘Crutch’ words (that, just, etc.)
  • Filter words

Please give it a try šŸ˜

Number Two

The second draft of Daughters of Darkness is complete! Now for more work!

Not right now, I suppose. Summer is coming (actually it’s here now), it’s a holiday weekend, and it’s time for me to honor our veterans the only way I know how: by drinking nonstop until my liver gives out, or I have to go to work again, whichever comes first.

But the next step in my editing process is going to be something I’ve never tried before. I plan to read through each POV character’s chapters contiguously, looking for consistency of voice and other character traits. I’m going to try to ignore most other issues I see, except for grammatical errors and things like that, focusing on the details of each character.

I’m not really sure how long I expect draft #3 to take me, but I’m optimistic it will be much quicker than draft #2. I started the initial read-through in late March, and just finished the last fixes today. Two months is too long for this pass, as I’m hoping to start querying in late June. That’s been my goal since near the beginning, though I’m not super confident I’ll be able to do make that (soft) deadline anymore. Even after the next draft is done, I still need to do at least one more pass to deal with anything I let go this time around, and to give it some polish.

But it’s the weekend, and I’m getting thirsty, so I’ll deal with all that come Tuesday. Bottoms up…

The Voices in My Head

Or rather, the voices on the pages of my MS. Which came from my head. That I can still hear.

Editing! That’s what I’m still doing with my current project, Daughters of Darkness. What I’ve been doing since late March, and will still be doing through…late June, perhaps? Maybe mid June if I’m industrious enough.

Editing a first draft involves fixing/improving a lot of different things, from big to small. I think that (for me) getting the character voices just right is one of the trickiest parts. In my earlier projects, I didn’t really worry too much about character voices, but these days, this is one of my biggest focuses. I also think it’s one of the aspects of writing long-form fiction that I’ve improved upon the most over the years.

When I first started concentrating on giving each major character her own unique voice, back in my 3rd MS, The Book of Terrors, I only worried about each how each person sounded when speaking (i.e. dialogue). But now I’m rather focused on also giving the narration a strong voice that belongs to the POV character for each scene.

I have 5 POV characters in this MS, so I consider it a fair challenge to make sure every everyone’s voice is unique and entertaining, without being annoying or sounding stupid. This is especially tough to do while writing the first draft, since I switch back and forth between different POV characters the whole time. I think that for this project, one of my final passes may include reading each character’s chapters contiguously – even though it means reading the book totally out of order – to check for consistency/continuity of voice.

To help in this process, I’ve learned (or made up?) some tricks for distinguishing each character voice. I like to pick certain aspects of voice that are specific to each:

  • Sentence length/structure
  • Common filler words/phrases (well, like, you know, etc.) that the character uses more than others
  • Common ways of referring to others (My guard character tends to refer to others by their last names, and my lady pirate likes to call other women “lass”)
  • Unusual ways of speaking, e.g. my warrior dude character almost never uses contractions
  • Swears/curses

The swearing is obviously the most important aspect. For the most part, each of my characters has her own set of swears, though they share some in common, depending on shared backgrounds/religious beliefs.

I usually come up with some of these identifying characteristics while I’m writing the first draft, so I have to go back and reconcile the voices for everyone while editing. And in some instances, I find that I’ve overdone someone’s voice while I was searching for it. That part (finding the voice by overdoing it) is usually fun, but it means I have to go back and smooth some of that out. This is proving to be especially true of my warrior dude in this MS.

So it looks I’m going to be more nitpicky about hammering down each voice for this project than I have in the past, which means more work (boo!), but I think it will be worth it in the end.