Brown plus Adams equals Poe? Stevenson minus Brown equals Clarke?

The I Write Like site came up in comments on the latest “Authors Answer” post (Author Influences) on I Read Encyclopedias for Fun, and I was reminded that it’s been a while since I fed it anything to “analyze.”  So I did just that.  Y’see, periodically l like to test this program and say “What the hell?” a lot as I look at the results it gives me.

I fed it a poem by Edgar Allan Poe; it told me the author of that poem writes like Vladimir Nabokov.  (Poe doesn’t write like Poe.  Yeah, that makes sense.)

I fed it a few sample scenes from a science fiction novel; it gave me such diverse results as Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, James Joyce, Dan Brown… and Edgar Allan Poe.

At this point, I decided to do a more detailed test, because the scene IWL tells me is written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe is not one of the scenes I’d have chosen if asked to find something, y’know, Poe-ish out of the whole thing.

I thought it could be the use of the word catacombs — appearing only once in the whole scene, by the way — that led to this particular result, so I tried the same passage again with catacombs changed to tunnels.  Same result, so that’s not it.  What else?  Ancient ruins?  That’s a Poe-ish concept, isn’t it?  Although I’d more expect that to be a Lovecraftian thing… Let’s find out.  Ancient ruins changed to passageways — it still works in context, although these bland nouns are sucking all the atmosphere out of the scene… Nope.  Still Poe.  *sigh*  It’s something in the earlier part of the scene, though, because when I use only the second half of it (approximately), I get Robert Louis Stevenson instead.  And… using only the part following where a certain character is NOT named, the result is Arthur C. Clarke.  However, the middle section, the part that’s Robert Louis Stevenson but not Clarke or Poe, gets Dan Brown.  Seriously, WTF?  I know the author has never read anything by Dan Brown.  First four paragraphs only — from the part that’s Poe-like, remember — get Dan Brown.  The rest of the Poe-like part gets Douglas Adams!

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More stuff that makes no sense:

The original opening for Changing Magic is written in the style of Leo Tolstoy?  Highly improbably…

The first chapter of Project Brimstone is written in the style of Margaret Attwood?  No way in hell.  (For one thing, I know the author of Project Brimstone would never deny that he writes science fiction.)  This is a contemporary military science fiction novel.  Maybe there are a few words in it that ping as dystopian or whatever — you know, something to make a computer program say, ‘Hey. this is just like A Handmaid’s Tale!’ — but it isn’t a dystopian novel.  (And by the same measurement, it could just as easily have gotten Stephen King as a result.)

In its current form (sorry), Changing Magic jumps from Vladimir Nabokov to Margaret Mitchell (twice!) to Neil Gaiman — all in the first chapter.  I want to make a joke of this, but I got nothin’.  (Is capitalizing the word Wind — as in the place name Windtower — sufficient to trick a computer program into assuming it’s reading Gone With the Wind?)  This story is the closest thing to traditional fantasy we’ve written; I don’t object to the comparison to Gaiman, although I’m not buying it, either, but Nabokov?  Really?  All I know about Nabokov’s writing at all is a general awareness of the premise behind Lolita — and, okay, I know “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” a song by Sting in which he refers to “that book by Nabokov,” without which I probably wouldn’t know anything about it.  This is definitely not a case of one of us — me or my clone — imitating an author because someone we would imitate was influenced by the other one, as was the case, apparently, when I was accused of imitating Faulkner and it turned out that I’d gotten my Faulkner-esque influences secondhand by reading a Zelazny novella titled “A Rose for Ecclesiastes.”

Supposedly the I Write Like site is still being improved, and the creator hopes to add percentages to the results — instead of telling someone that their writing is like Stephen King’s, maybe it’ll tell them that their writing is 27 percent Stephen King and 52 percent Anne Rice, and the rest is Chuck Palahniuk.  I’d love to know what the actual key words and such are, though.

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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10 Responses to Brown plus Adams equals Poe? Stevenson minus Brown equals Clarke?

  1. Laura L. says:

    1. Laughs
    2. Someone has way too much time on his hands.
    3. Laughs
    4. Wait! Wut? You mean I don’t write like Stephen King?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You write like … you? Is that possible? Does that ever happen?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I first became aware of the “I Write Like” site after I started seeing lots of people on WritersCafe (a peer review site) putting their little “I Write Like… Stephen King! (or whomever) badges in their profiles there. So I got into the code for the badge and made one for MY profile that said “I Write Like… myself!” Looked just like the real ones, otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. D.T. Nova says:

    I tried it with some of my writing; the names that came up more than once were Isaac Asimov (not surprising), Arthur Clarke (one of the things it says was written like him also mentioned him), and for some strange reason it says two of my non-fiction blog posts are written like H.P. Lovecraft.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d never heard of the site until today, but I put in a short story I’d written and it came up with Arthur C. Clarke. I’m not sure whether I’d choose him as my writing model, I haven’t read any of his stuff in a while.

    If I had to guess, I’d bet that the site doesn’t use keywords. It probably does some mathematical things like average length of sentence, variation in length of sentence, where the subject and verb are in the sentence…. You could test this by adding in or removing some periods in a sample and seeing if it changes the author match.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It definitely uses keywords sometimes, because the first result I got for one sample was “Stephenie Meyer,” but when I changed the name of the viewpoint character (used his current alias instead of his real name), and ONLY that, I got a different result. (Apparently the character in that sample has the same first name as one of the minor characters in the Twilight series.)

      I think it uses Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov as its “generic SF authors” when it finds keywords for that genre but not anything more specific in terms of style. Also, if you quote Clarke, it’ll probably think you’re him. 🙂

      Like

      • Interesting. I wonder if they ran a program that looked for words that appear more than average in certain writers’ writing? Of course, the name of a major character would hit that for sure, but I don’t think the algorithm is terribly informative if it changes results based on whether your character’s name is “Steve” or not. My story’s character had an Indonesian name, so not surprising I’d hit generic on that particular issue.

        Liked by 1 person

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