Empty Pages – AutoCrit “Writing Effective Horror” Course Review (Episode 11)

Empty Pages – AutoCrit “Writing Effective Horror” Course Review (Episode 11)

Empty Pages
Image ©2021 by Ian MacTire, all rights reserved.

In this episode, I talk about the course I took titled “Writing Effective Horror”, offered by AutoCrit. (Non-Sponsored Review)


If you’re a return listener, welcome back, if this is your first time, welcome! I hope you find these episodes to be useful. Also, if you are enjoying these, please leave a review and share with others, as that helps to get this podcast noticed. Also, a quick disclaimer: at this point in time, I am not sponsored and I’m not being paid to advertise anyone’s products. So when you hear me talk about such things, they are from my own personal experience. If I am ever in a position to be offered free stuff for reviews, paid or not, please be sure that I will give a completely honest review.

We are now in the first week of December. NaNoWriMo came to a close at the end of last month, and I hope all of you who participated learned something from it, even if you didn’t reach the 50 thousand word minimum to “win”. Personally, I think it’s a win if you simply showed up and wrote. Much of what I learned doing NaNoWriMo last year has carried me forward and I have seen a bit more success on the writing front. I’m now much more comfortable writing first drafts and then going back and editing it, and I find the overall process to be much more enjoyable.

That said, I did not participate this year. I had initially planned to do NaNoWriMo and release episodes related to it., however, Sometime in October, an ad popped up on Facebook for a month long online class titled “Writing Effective Horror”. It was through a company called AutoCrit, and my experience with them and their class is what this episode is about.  I had never heard of them before, but being an aspiring horror writer, I was intrigued by the idea of learning to write horror more effectively.  I will admit that I was initially on the fence about paying to take a course through a company I was unfamiliar with. There is way too many grifters and scams out there looking to make a quick buck off aspiring writers dreams of getting published.  They will make the claim that by taking their course, you will become a better writer and get published.

Before I continue, please Please PLEASE do your due diligence before paying for any course. Do not let your starry eyed dream of becoming a best selling author blind you to  potential scams. A quick Google search can often let you know if something or someone is legit. In the cases where Google fails to provide any relevant information – and it does happen from time to time – then do a Google search for the name of the person claiming to be an expert. So many times I have seen these “learn to write and get published courses” put out by people that either don’t have any evidence of having written anything and getting published, or the evidence is something like ebooks with really bad covers that they self published on Amazon.  I’m not putting down people who publish to Amazon, but being able to self published has led to a plethora of badly written books that look to be first drafts and are clearly in need of editing. And don’t get me started on shitty book covers that someone slapped together. I could easily do an episode on just that topic alone, and likely will sometime in the future. 

I think that self publishing can be a great thing as it certainly democratizes book publishing, but what you need to really think about is what you’re wanting to do with your work: do you want to just type out your first draft and slap it up on Amazon and hope for the best? Or do you actually want to put out a quality product, regardless of whether you self publish or get traditionally published?

With this in mind, I did my due diligence and found out that AutoCrit was actually legit.  What is AutoCrit, you might be asking? Per their website:

“AutoCrit is an online book editing platform dedicated to helping writers make quick and impactful improvements to their writing style, get their manuscripts ready to publish, and become successful authors.”

Basically, it’s similar to other editing software like ProWriting Aid and the like, yet different in a very crucial way, at least to me, and I will get to that in a bit. In doing my research, I also found out that they offer a lot of different services other than just the book editing software, and they offer other classes as well, such as similar ones for learning to write SciFi and Fantasy.

Despite this, I was still on the fence about taking the course. A lot of my writing related hesitations often boil down to one simple question: What if I suck as a writer and this is all a waste of time? I’m sure many of you can relate, or know of someone who can. When I finished my first draft last year, I walked away with a sense of accomplishment, and despite the fact that it was a mess and would need a lot of fixing, I was, and am, pretty proud of myself.

When looking for classes to learn how to write, I’d say about 99% of them are geared towards just teaching you the general rules about writing. Rarely, if ever, do they address the specifics for any given genre. While they all benefit from the writer having a grasp on how to write overall, how you write an effective horror novel is going to be quite a bit different  from writing an effective romance novel.  Most of the rules still apply, like not using a lot of adverbs, but there are certain “rules” that you use for one genre that might not work for another.

I’m not against taking courses that teach you how to write, and in fact, I encourage them. Knowing the rules is good, because then you will learn when you can break them and why, and I consider it a part of honing the craft of writing. If your plan is to write generalized fiction, or even non-fiction, this is a perfectly legit way to go. If, however, you have chosen to narrow your focus to a specific genre, then you definitely need to learn those rules as well.

As a horror writer, I definitely felt that taking a course that specifically addressed writing horror would be a good thing. I’ll admit to being frustrated over the years by never being able to find any classes that specifically addressed writing in this genre, and even YouTube videos are severely lacking in this area. This is where AutoCrit’s “Writing Effective Horror” class comes in. After I did my due diligence to make sure they were legit, and after much debate with myself and seeking out advice from trusted friends (who all said that if it was going to make me a better writer and become successful, to go for it), I decided to take the class.

Now I’m not keen on wasting money, and I certainly hate having my time wasted, but they had a money back guarantee that if I wasn’t satisfied, they’d refund my money. Worst case scenario: If I learned nothing, then I wasted 30 days. When I was much younger, I wasted more than that just getting drunk, so in comparison, this wouldn’t be that bad.   But if I learned just one thing that made my writing better, made my horror more effective, then it would worth what I paid for.

Was it worth what I paid? Hell yes! Did I learn to write effective horror? Yes!

I saw a huge improvement in my writing in such a short time. There is currently no way for you to know how much of an improvement it made, because I have not made available anything I have written thus far. I do plan on releasing something that shows the “before class” and “after class” so that you will have something that will actually show the results. I’m just not sure right now how I’m going to go about it. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to hit me up on the socials and let me know.

That said, I won’t go into gory detail – pun intended  – about what the course teaches in minute detail. If you’re interested, then I highly recommend that you take the course yourself.  I will say that the course covered character creation (both protagonist and antagonist), creating monsters, how to set the atmosphere, how to introduce and ratchet up the tension, and other horror related information.

There was a fair bit that I had already figured out on my own over the years of being an avid horror fan and watching and reading a lot of horror related stuff. My initial horror writing ability wasn’t that bad to begin with, but it definitely could use improvement, a fact I’m totally ok with acknowledging. 

During the course, I was inspired to write three new short stories. I was also inspired to go back to some of the stuff I had previously wrote. Using this new found knowledge, I was able to tighten them up and vastly improve them. Short stories I just tossed to the side because I felt they would never be up to par when compared to other short stories in the genre now became stories I can’t wait to submit for possible inclusion in various anthologies. In addition, I got even more fired up to begin work on my  second draft, and will be starting that process soon.

Now aside from the worry that I might be wasting my time and money, one of my other main concerns with taking this class was that it was going to just be one big month long sales pitch for their AutoCrit editing platform. As part of the course, you get one month of Pro access included, so that you can try it out and see if it’s something that would be useful to you. To be clear, it is subscription based, but then nowadays, what isn’t?

The more cynical part of me thought that I would perhaps get some measly horror writing morsels tossed my way while being inundated with “here is our platform, you need this, pay for this, this is awesome and if you use it, you will become number one best seller always!”. I’m pleased to report that this didn’t happen. They had one class that showed you how to use it, what the different reports are, and showing a feature that seems to be unique to them, that I’ll talk about in just a moment. The general attitude was that it was here, you have access to it, if you like it great, if you don’t, that’s ok as well, and that was the only time it was ever mentioned.

Now to talk about that feature. But first, I need to talk about it overall for this feature to make sense. Much like every other editing software out there, you import your text and it will show you spelling and grammar errors, it will show adverb usage, passive voice, things like that. Up until now, I have not used any editing software as I was not anywhere near ready to edit anything, not even the short stories I had previously tossed to the side (even though I did do manual editing on them).  One feature of AutoCrit is showing you a score from 0 to 100 for your manuscript. When I was checking it out, I imported one of my stories and it was at 60 or 62, something like that. I ran the various reports, I fixed the weak spots in my story, and brought it up to 80.

The one feature that impressed me more than anything else was that where most editing software seems to be going by generalized overall fiction, AutoCrit allows you to zone in by genre and even by author. So you can choose to compare your manuscript to fiction overall, or you can have it compared to specific genres. Since I’m writing horror, I chose to compare my writing to the horror genre overall.  Switching from general to horror did not change my score by much, so I guess that’s good. I mentioned that you can compare your manuscript with specific authors, and I chose Stephen King. My initial manuscript was horrible compared to his, but my finished work compared favorably, so I’ll take that as a win.  After that comparison, I switched it back to the genre as a whole, as I am not aiming to be a copycat.

Now I want to be completely clear here: AutoCrit does NOT force your writing to be exact copies of other writers. If you compare your work to Stephen King and you make the changes suggested by the various reports, you will not come out with a manuscript that reads as if King himself wrote it, unless you wrote it trying to imitate his style. All this editing software does is help to tighten up your writing and make it better. You still have to figure out your own authorial voice and style. My finished manuscript still reads like I wrote it, but instead of weak prose, I now have stronger prose. Where before I had a plethora of adverbs, I now have  sentences that worked much more effectively. And where I had been using passive voice (a no no), I now have active voice. Finally, because of my taking the time to monkey around with my own writing and see how the program worked and the finished product, I found myself actually thinking more actively about my word choice and sentence structure when I wrote the next story.

Will it help you to establish your writing style? No, you will still have to do the work to craft that.

Will this take the place of an actual editor? No. I still think you will need to get an actual editor or editors to take a look at it. You will still need to get beta readers to read it and give feedback. What  I do think  editing software will do, whether it’s AutoCrit or any of the others, is allow you to get your manuscript polished as best as you can before you give it to an editor, thus saving you a lot of money in the long run.

Will it help you to craft a story that doesn’t have “new writer” written all over it? Possibly, depending on the choices you make with regards to your own work. No editing software is going to do this for you. If you absolutely refuse to acknowledge that your work can use improvement, then don’t be surprised when no one wants it. You have to be willing to kill your darlings, as the saying goes.  I’m perfectly willing to massacre mine if it means I end up with something that scares the shit out my readers.

As for the class, it definitely taught me how to write more effective horror, but it also taught me things that were huge red flags for publishers and agents when looking at a manuscript, things that were definitely in my pre-class work that would have for sure gotten me rejected. This class didn’t give me a magical wand to get me published, I still have to do the work. But what it did give me was a new set of tools for my writing toolbox, ones that have already started to pay dividends even if I have yet to submit anything. Actually, I lied. During this course,I did submit something  for possible inclusion in a horror podcast. This was made possible because of what I was learning in this class. As of this episode, the submission deadline was reached, but the date for announcing the winner has not yet occurred. I’ll be sure to talk about either in the next episode, or the one after if the decision was delayed.

My final verdict was that my money was well spent, and my time was not wasted. If you want to learn to write effective horror, scifi, and/or fantasy, feel free to give these classes a shot, though do keep in mind that I cannot speak to value of the latter two, though I would imagine they are likely of the same quality. You’re not required to subscribe to AutoCrit, and you will have access to the course materials for life.  Did I subscribe? Yes, but I felt that what it offered to me was valuable to my goals, and you will need to evaluate that for yourself.  Time will tell if I become a published best selling author, but regardless, I feel even more confident about my horror writing and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

With that, stay classy and keep writing those stories!

© Copyright 2021 Ian MacTire, All Rights Reserved, except where otherwise noted.

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