The Page a Day Writers Group

It’s Simply Mathematical

Posted on: July 17, 2010

My friend posted this link to his Facebook wall yesterday along with a badge proclaiming that his writing style is like David Foster Wallace’s. Of course I had to rush off right away and try it for myself, with disappointing results.

I entered sections of text from Tattoo and got Chuck Palaniuk. I did love Fight Club, the film, but I’ve never managed to get more than 30 pages into a Palaniuk story before discarding it. Sniffily, I repeated the experiment with a different passage and got Vladimir Nabokov. Another writer I’ve never “gotten.” Curious to see if the program would generate the same result each time, I entered text from Bleat and She Alone Can Move Me, varying from strictly prose sections to heavy dialogue, and was told that I write like Stephenie Meyer, Ursula LeGuin and Stephen King. With the exception of some of King’s earlier works (I devoured “Carrie” when I was a teen), more authors I haven’t read. I pasted in a few ‘graphs of a recent email to a friend and finally received the laudable “Your write like David Foster Wallace.”

The process left me wondering how many authors were included in the list of comparisons. How many were women vs men? Were there any writers of color? Any international writers? If the test compares your style to modern American authors, ok. The results left me tepid. I’d hoped to be surprised, even rewarded (“You write like Tanith Lee, Dorothy Parker and Anais Nin all rolled into one!”). I suspect that the program is a simple algorithm that analyzes keywords, sentence length and structure, and prose vs dialogue. How can we really write like other authors, even when we try? Though many genres seem homogenized, there’s always a distinct tweak to the style that differentiates it from other writer’s voices, for better or worse.

I suspect that this program was created by one guy–mid 20s-mid 30s, college educated, white, single or married but dreamy/drifty and vaguely unhappy, someone who doesn’t wash his jeans too often and probably sports a subtle affectation of scruffiness because A) he thinks it makes him look cool and hearkens back to some Beatnik ideal and B) it displeases his mother)–and comprises the sum total of his cultural and literary awareness. He has never read bell hooks, Kobo Abe, Jewelle Gomez, Chinua Achebe, Angela Carter or Kathe Koja. Maybe I’m just being snarky. Maybe I’m just creating another character.

By the way, after pasting this post in the analyzer, I’m told I now I write like Jonathan Swift.

Kirsten Imani Kasai

PS!

Hey! I’m going to be at Comic Con Saturday July 24, so I hope you’ll stop by and check out my panel (one of i09’s “don’t miss” events!)

Welcome to The Future: Are You Sure You Want to Stay?-
Speculative fiction authors discuss visions of the future, dystopian and otherwise. Authors include Samuel R. Delany (Dhalgren), Alan Dean Foster (Flinx Transcendent), Cody Goodfellow (Perfect Union), Kirsten Imani Kasai (Ice Song), Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin (The Unincorporated War), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), David Weber (Honor Harrington novels), David J. Williams (The Machinery Of Light), and Charles Yu (How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe). Moderated by Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy.
When: 4:30-5:30
Where: Room 4

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1 Response to "It’s Simply Mathematical"

I can’t wait to hear about Comic-Con; it should be fascinating!

I’m also looking forward to trying this comparison.

Thanks for the fun, Kirsten!

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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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