Would you like to write in a crisp, concise, vivid style? Who wouldn’t? A new app called Hemingway allows you to see how your writing measures up to Papa’s standard. Ernest Hemingway, the king of powerful, spare writing, has influenced generations of writers. He crafted his Nobel Prize-winning novels based on four rules he learned as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star:
- Use short sentences.
- Use short first paragraphs.
- Use vigorous English.
- Be positive, not negative.
Brian Clark of Copyblogger adds a fifth rule Hemingway confided in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
You can use the app in two ways:
- Hit the Write button and create a new piece of text to evaluate.
- Hit the Edit button and plug in a piece of existing writing.
Hemingway provides a lot of information about your writing, including:
- Its readability level on a grade level spectrum
- Evaluation of stylistic features, such as rating sentences
Hard to read – requiring reading at a college level. Use simpler words.
Very hard to read – requires reading at a post-college level Consider splitting into two sentences or, making recommendations regarding
Adverbs – Adverbs weaken your verbs. Replace with a more descriptive verb. Change, “He walked slowly,” with “He tiptoed.”
Words and phrases can be simpler – For example “in excess of” can be replaced with “more than”
Uses of passive voice
It’s fun to put in a passage from a quality book to see what happens. Caleb Garling in the San Francisco Chronicle tested it with a passage from A Farewell to Arms and got several suggestions about how Hemingway himself, the author, could have improved it. I chose the final three paragraphs of The Great Gatsby. The app said two sentences were hard to read and two adverbs were questionable. Take that, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Critiquing the greats is bound to make you smile.
Using the app to check your own style is more useful. I pasted the first draft of this blog into the app and learned that it contained two sentences that were hard to read and two words or phrases that can be simpler. I conceded and made a couple of changes. What’s important is the app made me think about my writing style. That’s got to be a good thing.