I recently ran across the Hemingway App, an app designed to make you write “bold and clear,” in the manner of Ernest Hemingway, whose prose was spare and stripped of fluff.
I copied a piece of my entry from October 10, “I Wasn’t Expecting It,” to see what it might tell me about my writing. This particular entry was initiated by a prompt given by my journal writing group, so I had little thought about where it might one day lead. I may return to it sometime to see what follows.
For now, though, it served as a good example to check against the Hemingway standard. This is what I learned. (The colored fonts indicate the Hemingway standard that is violated.)
I wasn’t expecting it. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but that certainly wasn’t it.
I had a very definite destination. I had things to do, people to see, and I didn’t have time for any distractions. Damn it, there was just too much to do.
It was an ordinary street—houses on either side with neat little yards and pretty painted shutters. Windows darkened so you might wonder what is happening inside. Children’s toys in the yards, a pink tricycle overturned on the front walk of a house that on closer inspection wasn’t as neat as the others. I briefly wondered what that meant. Did the child drop it and run inside when mama called her to dinner, or did mama come outside and drag her by the arm off the tricycle and into the house with a swat on the butt. I wondered about that little girl.
I had paused in front of that house and stared, my destination forgotten for the moment. The house had nothing to say. I wondered why I had been so drawn to it and cursed myself for having stopped. I had things to do; get on with it.
I turned the corner into the next street, determined to avoid any additional distractions, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
Green vines and leaves cascaded down from the top of a wall that stretched out along a broken sidewalk. A fragrance floated on the breeze from the masses of leaves and vines. I looked for the flowers that must be there, but there were none—at least none that I could see. I moved closer to the wall and lifted one of the pale green leaves. A succulent. I squeezed it, allowing the juices to run down through my fingers. That was where the fragrance came from. Sweet, somewhat spicy, soothing.
The entire entry was truncated, so this is where it stopped. On the webpage, they highlighted certain sentences and words and used the following key to explain their analysis. So I think, for this writing, I didn’t do badly.
. . . .
Good (aim for a grade level less than ten for bold, clear writing, so I did well there.)
Please note that since the highlighting shown on the webpage did not copy into the text here, the font color distinguishes the categories as specified by the app:
3 of 24 sentences are hard to read.
0 of 24 sentences are very hard to read.
2 adverbs. Aim for 2 or fewer.
2 words or phrases can be simpler.
0 uses of passive voice. Aim for 0 or fewer.
Interesting. I expected to be somewhere much further from Hemingway, as I am inclined to writing long sentences and using adverbs a little too freely.
The website offered a link for a desktop version of Hemingway. When I clicked on it, a small window opened asking if I would be willing to pay $5 for a desktop version. This was a means of testing demand the window explained. When I clicked No, it simply said “Thanks,” and I had to “x” the window. When I clicked “yes,” a page opened asking for an email address to be notified when the desktop version is ready.
It’s an interesting kind of app that many writers may find useful, remembering that we are not all Ernest Hemingway and that his style of spare prose is not always a measure of excellence. Given the choice, though, I prefer Hemingway over Henry James, who could write a sentence that filled multiple pages. (I once tried to diagram a James sentence and was nearly committed to an asylum!)
It’s an interesting approach to evaluating your writing. I’ll keep my eye out for it. You may find it interesting as well. Let me know if you try it and how it works for you. What do you think? Is Hemingway the standard we should be following in the 21st century?