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Has anyone had any experience with Serenity Editor editing software? What's the difference between the Standard version or the Word add-in? What kind of results can it get?

If nobody has used it, from the description does it look like a worthwhile tool to investigate? Why or why not?

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Since this question is getting attention now, have lightly edited to modify some forum-y language, but please feel free to revert if I've changed something you wanted in there. –  Neil Fein Jul 27 '12 at 15:54
    
glad i came here before buying anything...LOL...thanks for the review –  user4787 Feb 23 '13 at 3:06
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Ok, I gave it a try.

I was puzzled during setup getting a message that my screen resolution is too high. Because it was a big WTF too me, I ignored the message and continued. Also does the WTF.

After launching the standalone application you see a fixed-size window, not resizable. I do not know if this is some stupid limitation of the evaluation version, but this is just ridiculous. After the app has analyzed your code, three sub windows show up within the main window, one behind the other.

The Draft Output window shows your text with numbers annotated. The Usage Output (error list) shows these numbers and the issue description. Now it would be handy to arrange these two windows side-by-side, but that is impossible, because of the fixed-sized main window. For me as software developer this is one giant WTF!

Luckily you can export the outputs and watch them in the editor of your choice side-by-side.

The findings themselves are interesting and helpful--at least for me as a non-native speaker. The error list is not in ascending order, instead sorted in categories. Looks like the idea is to get through the error list and look up the corresponding number in the text, not the other way around.

To get an impression I show you a section of my current novel and the analysis of the tool:
(Caveat: I believe in Write, don't edit and this is work in progress. So don't expect anything polished.)

Original text:

The wind breathes through my wings. I’m gliding on a cushion of relief. I’ve got outside in time. Here I’m one of many crows flying around. I angle my wings and turn around. I overlook the inner yard of the temple. Witches all over the place. Can they also can fly? It would reduce my chances tremendously.

Which chances anyway? They are so many and I am only one. They are witches and I’m just a bird.

»Don’t let me regret having chosen you.«

The beast.

»Oh, don’t tell me, you forgotten me. That would hurt so much; itching my highly strung heart.«

Aren’t you too sensitive? I doubt, that demons have hearts.

»And I doubt, that ravens have brains. At least the one I know of.«

If you are so smart, beast, then tell me how I, a bird, can kill the archpriest. A witch with magic, charms and stuff.

»Learn to think. Then learn to be more than a lousy bird.«

Wait! You cast me into this body.

»Yes, learn to use it.«

Draft Output:

<344>The wind breathes through my wings. <345>I'm gliding on a cushion
of relief. <346>I've got outside in time. <347>Here I'm one of many crows
flying around. <348>I angle my wings and turn around. <349>I overlook the
inner yard of the temple. <350>Witches all over the place. <351>Can they
also can fly? <352>It would reduce my chances tremendously.
<353>Which chances anyway? <354>They are so many and I am only one.
<355>They are witches and I'm just a bird.
<356>The beast.
<357>Aren't you too sensitive? <358>I doubt, that demons have hearts.
<359>If you are so smart, beast, then tell me how I, a bird, can kill
the archpriest. <360>A witch with magic, charms and stuff.
<361>Wait! <362>You casted me into this body.

Usage Output (some numbers are not listed, reason unknown, I put them in order):

<345> I'm
CONTRACTION [k]
<346> I've
CONTRACTION [k]
<347> I'm
CONTRACTION [k]
<347> around
COMMONLY MISUSED TERM; use "about" before a time [M]
<348> around
COMMONLY MISUSED TERM; use "about" before a time [M]
<350> Witches
POSSIBLE OFFENSIVE TERM? [o]
<350> all over the place
SLANG EXPRESSION [L]
<351> also can
UNIDIOMATIC PHRASE; can also? [N]
<352> tremendously
POSSIBLE EMPTY INTENSIFIER [E]
<354> only
COMMONLY MISUSED TERM: place right before word(s) it modifies [M]
<355> witches
POSSIBLE OFFENSIVE TERM? [o]
<355> I'm
CONTRACTION [k]
<357> Aren't
CONTRACTION [k]
<359> smart
COMMONLY MISUSED TERM; intelligent? [M]
<359> tell . . . how
COMMONLY MISUSED TERM; "that" unless "how" = "in what way" [M]
<360> witch
POSSIBLE OFFENSIVE TERM? [o]
<360> and stuff
INFORMAL OR COLLOQUIAL USAGE unless "stuff" is a verb [I]

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Thanks for trying it out! I believe I'll give the Word version a test drive this weekend and see what I think of it. It sounds like the standard version may be a bit troublesome. –  Steven Drennon Sep 17 '11 at 2:34
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One thing I would say, looking at this, is that it looks handy as long as you feel free to disagree with it. The fact it highlighted the use of the word "around" twice within two sentences was good even though it didn't realise it was doing that and thought it was doing something else. Using it as a "something could be wrong-o-meter" seems like it might work out. –  One Monkey Sep 17 '11 at 9:56
    
I agree, @One Monkey. As every tool it's not a substitute for "think for yourself". But it really has some interesting findings. –  John Smithers Sep 17 '11 at 13:20
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Looking at the examples they give, it looks like a good idea. However, many of the error they detect could have been detected by anyone with a good knowledge of English, which comes merely by reading a lot of books, and not necessarily by getting an English Degree.

So on this page, one of the errors they give is:

Good things come to them who waits.

Now I saw the error immediately, without having to look their solution. Another example is:

My birthday was June 31, 1986.

The date is incorrect - I couldn't guess this one.

So overall, not a bad software, but it might be less useful to those who already are in the habit of reading. The key point is the price - do you think $55 is a fair price?

They have a ten day trial- you can try that to see how it works in practice. Of course, you will need to have a fairly long piece of work to see how good the software is in practice.

As to which version you buy, if you normally use Ms Word, then you should buy the plug-in. If you use an alternative like Open Office, or any other free tool, then buy the stand alone version.

Just giving my personal opinion, I'm not too sure of software that claims to replace what a human can do, at least in creative fields (remember Clippy?). So be sure to use the trial before you buy the full version, and do share your results here.

Edit: Ok, I actually tried the software, and it was worse than I thought. It looked like a 1990's shareware program designed by a student. The UI was weird- you have to press 2 weird sounding buttons like draft and usage to get your analysis. The analysis itself is in a small non-resizeable window.

Even if you ignore the clunky UI, the actual program isn't that great. I entered about 1200 words from my draft, and it threw out hundreds of suggestions, most of them useless. Eg, in one case it told me the word 'assistance' was pretentious (really?) and I should replace it with help. But assistance was the right word in that scene. Then it wanted to replace hoarder with boarder.

Now you can say, the writer should be able to take what he/she wants from the output, ignoring what they don't like. All well. Except that it was throwing up hundreds of suggestions for just 1200 words. If I entered my whole book, I would be bogged down for weeks trying to understand the software's cryptic messages.

And finally, the price. currently, it is $55, which is more than even Scrivener. I'm not sure this software justifies the high price for the value it offers.

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Sharing results here is a great idea. It is totally acceptable to answer your own question if you come to a conclusion after asking it - helps us all learn. –  justkt Sep 16 '11 at 12:42
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I agree that some of the examples seem pretty obvious, but it has been my experience that the simple and seemingly obvious mistakes are the ones you tend to overlook in your own writing. If I read those in something that someone else wrote, they stand out as obvious. If I read it over in my own writing, I'm more likely to miss it because I "knew" what I meant to say! This is why I think something like this might be helpful. –  Steven Drennon Sep 17 '11 at 2:33
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On the Serenity web page, I note the following, offered as a reason for buying the software:

Inexperienced writers usually cannot identify problems in punctuation, spelling, word choice, phrasing, and style simply by looking over their work.

I think that if you cannot identify problems like these, perhaps you haven't yet acquired enough skill to write a novel in English. You become an experienced writer not by using software, but by reading and writing. Mostly reading. But writing a lot. And rewriting. And rewriting.

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Exactly. these are the skills you should have picked up by reading and writing a lot. Sure, a few things will slip, but you should never be dependent on a software to fix that for you. –  Shantnu Tiwari Sep 19 '11 at 9:32
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I agree that as a writer, you should be able to recognize these simple errors. However, I also believe that many writers tend to easily overlook them when editing their own work. Ideally, you shouldn't make these types of errors in the first place, but if you do happen to make one, then they are a lot harder to spot when you are reading back through a 100,000 word manuscript. –  Steven Drennon Sep 19 '11 at 18:08
    
@StevenDrennon: True, to a point. The problem is all the false positives you find using such software. Do you really need it to flag all instances of ain't, for example? It takes too much brainpower to deal with the mechanics of imperfect software, which is why I always turn off the grammar checker in MS Word. I don't need someone's crummy heuristics forcing me to justify my writing style. My proofreading method is much simpler and way more effective: I read all my serious writing aloud before I consider it complete. –  Robusto Sep 19 '11 at 18:30
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protected by Neil Fein Feb 23 '13 at 18:36

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