Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe: The Tell Tale Heart (Why It Wouldn't Fly Today)

This morning I was fooling around with some free-writing and decided to check my work using Grammarly for errors. I was not surprised at the number of errors it had discovered, but I was surprised by the number of advanced errors it had found.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to check one of my favorite short stories of all time for errors.  I googled "The Tell-Tale Heart", then copy/pasted it into Grammarly.

First thing I noticed, Grammarly discovered eighteen critical errors. A few were misspellings, but most were punctuation. The English language has changed over time, so to find a few of these instances was considered acceptable to me.

But when I took a look at the 39 Advanced Errors the program discovered, I was actually a little surprised.

  • 15 errors of "Wordiness"
  • 8 errors of "Improper Formatting
  • 5 errors of "Passive Voice Use"
  • 4 uses of "colloquial phrases"
  • 2 incomplete sentences
  • 5 more advanced errors

Keep in mind that this isn't a novel, but a short story of only 2,147 words! That's a large number of major errors for a work this small.

It boggles my mind that this work is considered a masterpiece among the same scholars who absolutely refuse to accept breaches of writing protocol.  Today, modern writing standards are designed to strip the artistic prose of a subject matter, leaving it dry and soulless, with only a few truly amazing authors like J.K. Rowling who have the gifts of a true wordsmith.

So when you are reflecting on the classics and want to read more works like them, think on this: Writers are told to abide by modern writing standards and there are now a considerable number of armchair critics who spout on about writing etiquette.  An author today wants to be recognized for their works of artistic expression, but in our modern world, most average writers likely they will never succeed if they go against the grain.

Authors are expected to dumb down their work by breaking apart their artistic expression so that it will appeal to the largest common denominator.


  1. Sadly, this is the norm in the self-publishing industry. But the rules the computers use were created by editors and educators over the 20th century. That's why you don't see books like Lovecraft or Herbert today. None of them could pass today's acceptable standards of writing etiquette.

  2. I think the problem is a little less that we, as writers, are told to adhere to strict (unimaginative, soulless) guidelines, as much as it is that readers have become incapable (perhaps through the hand of the Traditional Pub industry) of sitting an extra hour to re-read that chapter - because maybe there was a little more under the surface.

  3. Very good point as well. Just like we see today with the education system. If the students are not hitting the target, lower the target. Somewhere along the way, we have failed to advance education standards and regressed.