I write like… someone with multiple personality disorder

July 24, 2010

I couldn’t resist. There’s something new on the web:  “I write like.”  This site purports to discover your inner author by analyzing a sample of your writing. “Any text in English will do,” it declares. All you need to do is write directly on the page, or cut and paste some cherished prose, press a button, and voila! Your literary next-of-kin are displayed on a handy virtual badge.

If only it were that simple.

Despite my doubts, I dutifully plugged in a section of text from Project W.  And promptly had a heart attack when I got “Dan Brown.” I’ve read The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Both are excellent stories, neither are terribly well-written. In denial, I tried again, with a different excerpt. This time I got James Joyce. More trials yielded Ursula K. LeGuin and  Arthur C. Clarke (yay!), along with Charles Dickens and Cory Doctorow (flattered, but huh?). But wait, there’s more! Apparently, authors from J.K. Rowling to H.P. Lovecraft have also left their fingerprints on Project W. Either I write like I have multiple personalities, or something is wrong here.

A little research dredged up an explanation. “I write like” matches texts to authors based on word frequency. If I use lots of gory imagery in iambic pentameter, I’ll be matched with Stephen King, not Shakespeare (incidentally, one of my “sad limericks” was matched with King). Then I got cynical creative and starting trying to get certain authors. Typing “Harry Potter, Hogwarts, Wingardium Leviosa, Harry Potter, Harry Potter” gets Rowling. “Blood, blood, blood, blood, lamp monster” gets Stephen King.

This explains a lot. Since Project W deals with an apocalypse, there’s a lot of vocabulary relating to churches/religion (Da Vinci Code/Angels and Demons, anyone?). A section from P’s POV got Charles Dickens (not surprising, considering P’s 11 years old; think about Oliver Twist), and I’m guessing some of the darker sections shared vocabulary with Lovecraft.

So, overall opinion? It’s fun. Playing around with the program is good for a few laughs, but considering the ease with which it can be manipulated, it shouldn’t be taken seriously. There is a lot more to writing style than word choice. Make no mistake, it’s a cool idea, but I don’t think literary style can be boiled down so easily.

Or maybe I just don’t want to admit I write like Dan Brown.


PS. I plugged in this post. Intergalactic Writers Inc. sounds like H.P. Lovecraft. 😉


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