Grammarly’s Good But Not for Fiction

Grammarly's Good But Not for FictionThere are plenty of beneficial writers’ tools, but a weekend of editing has taught me something: Grammarly’s good but not for fiction.

As a rules-based, expert system, Grammarly is great for a punctuation-muggle like me. But it’s nowhere close to AI. Grammarly knows everything about grammar but nothing about style. Originally intended to spoon-feed writers of dull corporate reports and presentations, it’s entirely unsuited for creative writing. Use it on fiction, and you need to take its advice with a giant ladle of salt.

Incidentally it doesn’t like the word ‘ladle.’ Too complicated. It suggests ‘spoon.’ I put this post through Grammarly. It made 57 suggestions. I accepted 19.

Grammarly’s rule-base seems determined to remove any trace of style and voice from a text. Worse than that, it comes up with ‘suggestions’ that are borderline bonkers. Your punctuation will be flawless; your content will be laughably trashed. Follow this thing slavishly and watch your text turn into the bastard child of Predictive Text and Google Translate – from 2006.

It has no concept of context, dialog or dialect. Rhetoric doesn’t exist in Grammarly’s universe.

Hard and Fast

You want examples? Fine. Halfway through a 70,000-word manuscript and these are the ‘highlights.’

Grammarly keeps adding transition phrases, in particular, ‘instead.’ There is no ‘instead.’ It’s the following action. Also it repeatedly wants to insert ‘so,’ ‘finally,’ ‘eventually,”then’ and ‘unfortunately’ at the start of sentences. Often. It’s suggested putting at least one (sometimes all) of ‘then’ and ‘unfortunately’ and ‘finally’ on every single page. Multiple times. But it tells me my text is repetitive. That’s because it doesn’t like repeated words. It knows nothing of rhetoric or the repetition of words and structures for emphasis.

I’m using a lot of specific ‘technical’ terms, like ‘bow’ and ‘arrow.’ So, I’m not going to change instances of ‘arrow’ to ‘dart’ or, bizarrely, ‘hand.’

It hates repetition so much it’s dead keen on synonyms. Highlighting ‘words’ with the suggestion ‘choose a synonym’ it suggests ‘dishes.’ DISHES??!! What? ‘Struggling for a reply, he chose her dishes carefully.’ How about ‘she tried to describe the feeling but couldn’t find the dishes.’

Grammarly also wants to insert ‘that.’ Yes, the word every writing coach on the planet tells you to go through and delete.

Forget slang terms and a lot of contractions. Grammarly is more formal than Jeeves serving aperitifs. It suggests ‘because’ in place of ’cause; ‘may not be appropriate in this context.’ It knows nothing about context. It’s worse than my drunk English teacher in the 1980’s.

Brevity is king, regardless of style. How often does it suggest ‘the phrase XXXX may be wordy. Consider changing the wording.” Sometimes it comes up with a shorter form. Sometimes it gives up and leaves you to it.

Grammarly is also incapable of building context in a passage. ‘It may be unclear who she refers to.’ There are only two people in the dialog, one man ‘he’ and one woman ‘she.’

When it branches out into spelling, it goes especially crazy. When does the verb ‘to get away’ become ‘to getaway’? Best I know, ‘getaway’ is a noun. Whatever dictionary it uses, Grammarly often contradicts both Mozilla and LibreOffice.

No Offense

The Woke Police have been hard at work, too.

I got the classic, ‘do you want to sound more diplomatic?’ No, I frickin’ don’t, dumb-ass; this is an argument in dialog.

It also wants to change ‘slaves,’ which ‘may cause offense’ to ‘an enslaved person.’ I fail to see the difference. And yes, I’m describing an offensive practice on the part of THE BAD GUYS.

Surprisingly though, Grammarly is a hip-hop fan. Why else does it want to replace ‘the two pack ponies’ (ponies carrying packs, two of them) with ‘the two-pack ponies?’. What next? ‘The biggest horse’ becomes ‘the Biggie horse?’

It’s not all bad. The free version of Grammarly is doing a stand-up job of fixing my commas, apostrophes and semi-colons. Even some of its nonsense-prompts have me looking at the text thinking, ‘is that what I really mean?’ and making edits that I missed in previous rounds. I just wish it was… better.

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