Saturday, December 31, 2011

Computer Confusion

Current word-processing software is pretty neat, there are all kinds of bells and whistles unavailable back in the early desktop day, especially in the way one edits a document. Layout, styles, spellcheck, even grammar-check, though both the latter have drawbacks–writing science fiction or fantasy, you will likely use a lot of words the program won't recognize; and sometimes you will use a correctly-spelled word, but it's the wrong one: "sea," instead of "see."  Of course, it could be any word: "Seal" or "Platypus." Spellchecker won't care. 

The grammar checker might catch that, and certainly proper grammar has its place, but not so much in a novel. Lot of things I do deliberately that the grammar-checker says are wrong. 

Since I'm in charge, we do it my way.

What is the old Churchill cavil? "Something I won't put up with." should properly be rendered as "Something up with which I will not put." to avoid ending the sentence in a preposition. Uh huh. Right. 

Among the features in WP software is the auto-word count. Back in the day, you took your manuscript, picked three pages at random, and counted the lines and words per line on each page, multiplied that, then divided the total by three, to come up with a typical word-per-page count. (Between thin dialog and thick description, it did average out, and it was important to know that printers who charged by the page didn't differentiate twixt the two, a page was a page.) 

Multiply that average you got by the number of pages you had, and that was what you wrote in the upper right hand corner, to give the editor and printer some idea of how long a book it was gonna be. And you rounded it off: "About 75,000 words." Not "About 75,102 words."
Because right away doing that, you'd mark yourself as somebody who didn't know the difference between "about" and "exactly ..."

My typewriter days, I averaged about 250 words per page, that being double-spaced pica and with one-inch margins all around. 

Depending on the print size and page layout in the finished book, the ratio was somewhere in the vicinity of 10:7; i.e., for a 400 pp ms, you'd get 280 pp in print, more or less.

Early WP software, I adjusted fonts and spacing to give me the same as the typewriter did, and it made it simple to do the math. Four pages = a thousand words. Wanted 100,000 words? You needed 400 pp. 

Nowadays, the machine gives you the number. Some of the software, you don't even have to ask, there's a running total at the bottom. 

The problem is that none of the software does it quite the same. They tend to get close, but sometimes close is a relative term.

Current book-in-progress, the first draft in Pages–that's the Mac's default WP–the total words when I got to -30- came to 76,045. Since I was aiming for around 75K, that's close enough.

But if I check that file in's slimmed-down version of MS Word? the count is 77,449, which is more than 1400 words difference. How come?

They used different parameters, apparently. The way I learned it was five-letters-and-space equals a word, but obviously both aren't using the same method.

What is more interesting is that I have Pages installed on my iPad, and when I open the book there, the count is 75,965.  Now, that's only eighty words difference from the Mac, no big deal, but still, it makes you realize that the computer version and the iPad version of the same software are not the same.

Caveat numerator ...


Randy Packer said...

Openoffice can sometimes use the "Smart quotes" features in a strange way, and count the quote marks as words, I've heard. Libreoffice doesn't have that issue.

Steve Perry said...

Not critical at novel length, and as long as you know there's a variance, you adjust for it. I do all my writing in Pages, only going to .doc when somebody needs it. Copy and paste, or convert to the needed format. Never liked Windoze, way more that I ever needed.

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