Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because it's amusing to see how a computer program thinks I should write.

Once you come up with great ideas then you have to put them on paper, and all too often what I typed is not what I thought I typed. Fortunately there are utilities to help me with proofreading, such as spell check and grammar check programs. For ordinary business writing, they're probably pretty useful, but once you start writing fantasy, or even historical fiction, you run into problems. I long ago turned off the grammar check on Word, and I've lost track of the number of browsers/computers I've told to ignore "spelling errors" that are actually the names of my characters. The Darkover anthologies, such as MUSIC OF DARKOVER, which I just edited, are even worse, because Marion Zimmer Bradley made up her own languages. Still, spelling can be managed. Grammar is much more difficult.

Recently I discovered a site called Grammarly, which not only does grammar checking, it also checks for plagiarism. I wondered how well that would work, so I put in a 500-word chunk out of the middle of my first novel, CHANGING FATE, and it gave me an "Unoriginal text detected" message. It must have one heck of a database to catch that.

I also put in part of a legal waiver:
Whereas, (a) some of the Vessels are experimental and developmental in design and intended for extreme propulsion; (b) use of such Vessels involves an inherently high risk of damage or injury that is accentuated by their intended competitive use; (d) sailing or mere presence on any Vessel is an inherently hazardous activity...
Grammarly objected to the passive voice, but it does not appear to have noticed that the text has (a), (b), and (d), but not (c).

I don't know what grammar checkers have against the passive voice. What was this document supposed to use in place of "...that is accentuated"? Perhaps "...that their intended competitive use makes worse"? Also, the passive voice is particularly useful in dialog, especially when the character speaking doesn't want to say who did whatever it was that someone did. Consider this wonderful example from Lois McMaster Bujold's novel BROTHERS IN ARMS:
"Er—insults were exchanged, sir."
"And tempers kind of got out of hand. Bottles were thrown, and thrown on the floor. The police were called. She was punched out." Xaveria eyed Danio warily.
Miles contemplated the sudden absence of actors from all this action, in Xaveria's syntax.
Grammarly gives this blog a score of 56 out of 100.