Your Writing Style

July 16, 2012 — 28 Comments

Each of us writes in a unique manner.

You can study writing patterns in various ways, by considering vocabulary, changes in sentence lengths, repeated phrases, and various other measurable elements.

Then there are more subjective aspects of our writing, but these too are recognizable. They would include tone and more abstract things like pacing.

When you add them all together, you arrive at an amorphous quality called the writer’s “voice.” And, as I said above, each of our “voices” are different.

It may be that we dabble in a variety of forms and genres. For example, in addition to these casual blog posts, I also write about theology and military ministry from a much more “professional” perspective. And, shockingly (to my own writing identity) I’ve recently received encouragement related to poetry with which I’ve been experimenting.

Even when we write in various literary forms, and they clearly differ from one another in their voice, the truth is that for each of these documents we develop a personal, inimitable voice.

Now, after emphasizing our literary uniqueness, I want to switch perspectives and consider that our various styles and voice resemble those of others. Occasionally, when reading someone’s work it strikes you as familiar. You may even recall the author that the work reminds you of. (I’m not referring to plagiarism, of course, although the internet has apparently made that particular plague even more common now than in the past.)

It would be vanity to claim that our own writing voice resembles that of no one else. Yes, some voices are so peculiar that they are clearly “rarities,” but others have shared even those odd personalities in the past. I suspect that’s even true for the senseless ramblings with which some self-styled “artists” assail the public. (Even insanities can resemble one another.)

In any case, if you ponder this subject it’s natural to wonder: who do I write like?

Today, through the amazing processing abilities of the computer, you may be able to get an answer to that very question. It’s not a definitive answer, because as I said above, our writing voice possesses both material (words and syntax) and spiritual (ephemeral and aesthetic) dimensions. And, while a computer may be without peer in comparing the former, I believe it to be quite deficient in discerning the latter.

Nevertheless, a rudimentary program is available online to compare your writing with that of a number of writers of varying reputation. The program has a number of limitations, but I think there may be something to it. It requires an extensive section of your writing (several paragraphs, at least). I assume more would be better, in terms of promoting accuracy.

As I just mentioned, it includes a limited number of authors currently entered into the database, and I suspect that the gifted C.S. Lewis is not among them. (I say this not because I expected to be aligned with him, but because of some of the included authors I am aware of. In addition, the program’s creator is actually Russian, so I would be curious to learn how the represented English authors were selected.)

It would limit the program’s value, for example, if I only input data on three writers and you were matched with the one you resembled most closely. Would you prefer, for example, to be told you write like Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Georgette Heyer, or Fabius Planciades Fulgentius?

Even with a significant number of writers included, the program’s accuracy will be affected by the quantity (and specific choice) of what is included to represent each. For example, the programmer properly included Stephen King. How valuable would that be, however, if he had only used King’s poetry and excluded his prose works? (Yes, the horror master has also penned poetry—now, that’s a scary thought!)

Well, despite the limitations of the “I Write Like” program, it is fun to try out. And it sounds impressive, in that it relies upon a naive Bayesian classifier. (Well, the “naive” part doesn’t sound especially remarkable, but the formula looks pretty imposing to someone who never took calculus.

You can use take the “test” at this site.

Make sure you include lengthy selections from your work. Also, testing the program with different genres (assuming you write in different styles) will actually give you new matches. (That is, of course, as it should be.)

If you do decide to experiment with it, a comment below about your results would be interesting for others. And now, for the moment that you have been awaiting . . . with whose writing did the program match mine?

I tried a number of times (no—not fishing for results I wanted, but using a variety of types of my writing) and here were the repeated results:

For my blog posts: H.P. Lovecraft or J.R.R. Tolkien

For my more formal essays: J.R.R. Tolkien or Jonathan Swift

(It’s Swift’s picture, you’ll note, that begins this post.) Actually, the majority of the results linked to Swift, whose work I don’t recall ever reading in full, not even Gulliver’s Travels. However, our shared emphasis on wit, advocacy and satire account for what I deem a genuinely accurate assessment. And it does not hurt that Swift was Anglo-Irish, like my favorite author!

So, until Dmitry Chestnykh adds C.S. Lewis to the writers included in the “classifier,” I’m quite content to rest on my matches. Because even if I don’t share Lovecraft’s worldview, I can still respect his literary skill. And being identified with the other gentlemen, is a grand compliment.

[Special thanks to Julie Catherine who introduced me to the site via her post on the subject.]

28 responses to Your Writing Style

  1. 
    Julie Catherine July 16, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Rob, this is a wonderful post – far better and much more interesting than the one I did – and thank you so much for the recognition of my site, it’s much appreciated. Your blog is really well written, and I’m enjoying the exploration! ~ Julie :)

    • 

      You’re more than welcome. I always believe in attributing insights and thoughts to their source . . . whether my brain still has the source accessible in its tangled synapses is another matter.

  2. 

    Well this was an interesting read and after visiting the above mentioned site, I apparently write like William Gibson. I’m not sure how I feel about that one haha

    • 

      Interesting. I must confess I had to look William Gibson up to see who he was. Noting that Wiki describes him as the “‘noir prophet’ of the cyberpunk subgenre,” made me extremely curious about your writing. “The Sword of the Spirit” sounds quite promising, and I must say the graphic you chose–with that extremely stylized and vicious looking blade–does appear just slightly cyberpunkish!

  3. 

    I think about “voice” often as I write because so often I wrestle with the challenge of communicating my thoughts with clarity. Writing is hard! I immediately think of the austere genius of Willa Cather and how her spare words convey such depth. The contemporary writer who best embodies Cather’s “voice”, I think, is the gifted Marilynne Robinson, who deals deftly and delicately with spirituality in her novels “Gilead” and “Home”. If you haven’t read them, I think you would enjoy them.

  4. 

    Intriguing! I envy you your link with Tolkien. :)

    For my fiction, I was matched with Stephen King for one piece, which is interesting as I have never read him (and I don’t like the horror genre, though I know he has written other things as well) and Kurt Vonnegut for another, which strikes me as odd.

    I became somewhat skeptical of the program, though, when the analysis of one of my blog posts matched me with the Bard. Having no idea what similarity my last blog post has with the works of William Shakespeare, I tried another post and was matched with H.P. Lovecraft, which begs the question of similarity between Lovecraft and the Bard…? Yet another post matched me with Kurt Vonnegut again, and I became more confused. Finally I combined all of these posts and the analysis linked me with Dan Brown, which does not please me.

    So either my writing voices are all over the place, which I don’t think is entirely true, or the program is a very intriguing idea, but suffers from too limited a pool of authors and/or too little of my own text to analyze. I mean Shakespeare? I’m flattered, dear program, but really…

    • 

      Too funny! I suspect the majority of folks would get an around-the-world analysis if they sampled enough of their work. Congratulations on your bonds with the Bard, and commiserations on your association with Brown . . .

  5. 

    The creator of the program is Russian, huh? Maybe I sound like my favorite Russian writer, Pushkin. Ha! Great post.

  6. 

    I keep hearing about this writing comparison program.
    It doesn’t surprise me you were matched with Swift.
    Interesting post!

  7. 
    readplaydream July 19, 2012 at 7:58 am

    This is interesting. I like your idea of comparing one’s writing style to a “voice,” with its uniqueness and yet, ironically, how it resembles others’. I remember a lesson from one of my classes in social science/anthro – it says humans have this innate ability and tendency to mimic. I think it applies to writing as well. Don’t get me wrong on this one, though. I believe that we do have the ability to not only take up and digest what we read, but also incorporate the manner with which the material was written to our own. So in effect, we ‘inherit’ some of the author’s traits in writing as we read his composition, more so upon reading more of his works.

    I haven’t tested this program yet, but it’ll be an honor to be compared to Lewis and Tolkien, two of the best writers ever known (if the program is indeed accurate and if my writing skills are even comparable to them). Haha.

    • 

      An interesting thesis, that seems pretty logical on its surface. The things I’d be interested in are (1) how much of this is conscious/subconscious and (2) whether our agreement/disagreement with the writer influences the mimicry.

      • 

        Good points you have there. But because my field of profession has nothing to do with behavioral sciences (the mentioned subject was an elective), I think I can’t provide solid answers for you.

        Based on experience, I find this more on the subconscious. The more I read about a certain author’s works and the more I’m attached to them, the more I find myself writing narratives like he would – which also addresses your next question. An agreement with the writer’s points of views does have an influence over the writing style. I mean, I wouldn’t “adopt” a writer’s style if he embodies the complete opposite of what I believe in, unless he really writes damn good. But yeah, I guess it still matters.

  8. 

    Very interesting site. I’m going to give it a try. Will let you know.

  9. 

    OOh, fun! It was cool to read people’s results, though I’m not sure how much faith I place in the system. This site seems pretty convinced I write like H.P. Lovecraft, with the exception of one story that is (rather accurately, I think) assessed as resembling David Foster Wallace.

    I saw this post just as I was wondering about my own voice. When I write fiction, I generally feel like an imitator, trying to imagine how other people would put things. Perhaps because I’m an actor as well, I approach writing like theatre. How can I tap into my “cynical physicist overcome with ennui” personality or my inner “10-year-old misogynist ranch kid”? As a result, I’ve never felt as if I have a voice when I write fiction, aside from a kind of lyricism I like to lend to every character.

    On the whole, interesting food for thought. I’ve appreciated discovering your blog!

    • 

      Glad you enjoyed it. An actor, huh? I was “Thespian of the Year” when I graduated from high school many years ago. Never really thought of myself with that identity though, since I got involved in plays simply because my friends were. Even did it my first quarter in college (due to pressure from some high school friends attending the same college). Anyway, that’s an interesting insight to writing. I can clearly see how it’s an advantage when writing with other personalities. At the same time, you very success at that could raise questions about the essence of your own voice. I see it. Sounds like the lyricism comment shows that you do have a decent grasp on your true personal voice. (It sounds just like H.P. Lovecraft’s!) …just kidding.

  10. 

    Thank you for stopping by my humble, David Foster Wallace-like blog. At least that’s who I’m supposed to write like.

    • 

      Ditto! I hope you’re pleased with your match…

      I guess he was talented, but I’m saddened when I see how many literary individuals who don’t know the Truth (upper case) suffer from deep depression and ultimately take their own lives. This excerpt from his famous Commencement Address at Kenyon College reflects some clear truth: “Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH . . . or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.”

      • 

        That was totally sad. It was sad because it was so true (for the most part), and sad because it tells so much about his life. I read how that he battled serious depression for years, even enduring shock treatment at one point. I have medically battled depression, but what a difference there is when you find Hope that transcends this life. He was so close, yet so far.

  11. 
    angelicamichel August 1, 2012 at 6:11 am

    Thanks for the insight and the website! Apparently I use stream of consciousness in poetry and may have synesthesia while writing prose. (I was compared to James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov). Who knew?
    I wonder how much of “voice” is a result of background, influence, etc. and how much we create by sheer force of will. Just thinking of my own speaking voice…When I moved to the States I got tired of being teased for my Canadian accent so I practiced “American” and changed my voice!

    • 

      And then there are those who don’t “choose” their accents. One of my wife’s best friends married a guy from South Carolina, and they moved there from the West Coast where she had lived her entire life. She visited home after six months in “Dixie,” and darned if she didn’t have the cutest Southern drawl. And it was affected. It was genuine. When they moved back here to Washington State some years later, it gradually dissipated.

      • 
        angelicamichel August 3, 2012 at 7:37 am

        Affected but still genuine and true to herself…I like that. Sounds like a neat lady. Thanks for sharing :)

  12. 

    Rob, I’m so glad I found your blog! As you already saw, I am a pastor and a huge Lewis fan (that was my post you read about finding the pass to Narnia), though not a Lewis scholar by any stretch. So I will definitely be frequenting your posts, which are extremely well-written.

    Anyway, I plugged all sorts of text into this site you mentioned, and I came out with a slew of comparisons. Like one of your other commenters, my voice is all over the place, apparently: James Joyce, Anne Rice, Kurt Vonnegut… Granted, I am using a good variety essays, stories, monologues, etc, but still, I hope I settle into some kind of recognizable groove before too long. Obviously, you have done a pretty good job of that with your Tolkein comparisons.

  13. 

    The writing analysis website is quite interesting, though I’m not sure how much stock I can place in its assessments. My blog posts it compares to Ray Bradbury and Cory Doctorow, my nonfiction essays to H.P. Lovecraft, and my fiction to a slew of wildly divergent authors (Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen, among others). I do know that I noticeably change my voice according to the story I’m telling, but I would get several different authors from the same story (and I dearly hope I don’t write like Stephanie Meyer).

    Still, it’s quite fun to play around with! Thanks for blogging about it.

    • 

      Stephanie Meyer, huh? Hadn’t noticed it before in your posts… but I’m on the lookout now! Actually, not having read any of the Twilight stuff, I’m not sure what I should be watching for..?

  14. 

    This was an amazingly fun and thought-provoking post! Thanks so much for sharing your findings! I, for one, supposedly write like Rudyard Kipling, especially in fictional settings, and James Joyce. As soon as I study out James Joyce, I will decide my positive or negative feelings. :-)

  15. 

    I’ve tried the “I Write Like” site before, and, have gotten a variety of results, when I entered an excerpt from a historical novel I was working on, the site came up with Kurt Vonnegut, and (gratifyingly) when I entered a few stanzas of poetry I’d written, it came up with J.R.R. Tolkien. Albeit, it was a poem set in a mythical, medieval world, and the style was rather archaic.

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