There was a flurry of Internet interest, a few weeks back (as I write now), over an Internet site called “I Write Like”. Here. In a text box, you can paste a piece of your writing and the site claims to analyse “your word choice and writing style” it, compare the results “with those of the famous writers” in a database of (presumably) similarly analysed published authors, and then tell you who you write like.
To celebrate having completed a draft of the first section of Elin’s Story the other day I thought I’d give the site a trial. I started by posting the whole 17,000 or so words of Section 1 and running them through the analyser. The result?
Hmm. OK. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. (He also wrote a number of other novels, short stories and stage criticism, but I don’t imagine theyâ€™re what my text is being compared with.) So let’s think. What are the points of similarity? As it stands at present the first section of Elin’s Story is made up of seven episodes, each told from a different viewpoint, and there are both third-person and first-person narrators. Dracula is a kind of epistolary novel, made up of many distinct fragments, and with a number of different narrators. Also, of course, Dracula is written in a form of English that seems old-fashioned today and I have tried to give my characters’ speech a bit of a 16th century flavour which might also appear old-fashioned. Though surely there’s a difference between Stoker’s 19th century English and my cod-Shakespearean?
So then I looked out a piece of an earlier draft of the same text. One without any attempt to flavour the language. This text was about 9000 words long. The analysis result came back:
Well, that’s quite a jump, isn’t it? Bram Stoker to Dan Brown? And all for the loss of a few prithees and mayhaps. Although (bearing in mind the immense commercial success of both writers) perhaps they are more alike than one thinks. Mind you, it’s not so bad, either, to find that I am writing like two so successful writers.
Still I do wonder. I search out another draft text. This one (about 5,000 words) is all in first-person narrative – my heroine telling the story of her childhood.
James Joyce? Oh come on! I repeat the process using a shorter section of the same text …
From Joyce to Rowlings in one easy move! Of course I have to try another text. From the original (Bram Stoker) trial piece I extract Elin’s dream (about 1,000 words – first person narrative, a touch of the surreal):
And a longer section from an early draft of Elin’s (first-person) account of a Baltic Sea crossing:
Is that so!?
I note that all the people “I Write Like” are either very popular modern authors or authors from a sort of cannon (Stoker, Joyce and Poe). Assuming the I Write Like site does seriously do what it claims, and is not just an Amazon marketing ploy (click on any of these badges – except the last – and you’ll see what I mean), then I wonder just how extensive is the database of published authors they are using for comparison. I mean, would it be possible to find yourself described as writing like John Ruskin, Aphra Behn, William Gladstone or Tobias Smollet?
And if you were to run a text by, say Bram Stoker through the analysis, would the result be “You Write Like Bram Stoker” or would it be “You write like Annie Rice”? (I tried it, but the analysis recognised Mr Stoker, even with all the proper names replaced by letters.)
I wonder, don’t writers worth their salt really, each of them, want to find their own voice? Perhaps my voice is just a mashup of Stoker/Brown/Joyce/Rowlings/Rice/Poe, but perhaps it is so unique that the computer programme behind I Write Like can’t cope. Perhaps …
What do you think?