Who Do You Write Like?

[Greg Hunter is back with another intriguing post.]

Style is an elusive thing. That’s a cliché, but like a lot of clichés, it’s true. Most writers struggle on the way to developing a distinctive voice. And once the author gets there, the challenge becomes his or her editor’s: to preserve this voice on the way to making the author’s manuscript leaner, meaner, and ready to hit the presses. Close attention to rhythm, word choice, rate of exclamation point usage, etc. makes a difference, but preserving a writer’s style is partially a matter of intuition. Style can be codified, sort of, maybe. (If pressed, I could describe Kurt Vonnegut’s writerly voice, but replicating it would be another, um, story.) Even so, it can’t be reduced to a mathematical formula. Of course, this hasn’t stopped people from trying.

I Write Like, the brainchild of Russian software developer Dmitry Chestnykh, is an Internet time waster uniquely aimed at editors, writers, and the otherwise style-obsessed. The site takes a visitor’s prose samples and compares it (via algorithm) with works by dozens of famous authors. Potential counterparts range from James Joyce to Stephen King. The results are sometimes baffling and occasionally hilarious. (One journalist tested a Facebook post by Sarah Palin and got ‘H. P. Lovecraft,’ so I can only guess that the program is able to determine the relative grotesqueness of a writer’s imagination.)

The first two times I tried the analyzer, I was told that I write like Dan Brown. I continued submitting pieces until I also got ‘Vladimir Nabokov’ and ‘David Foster Wallace.’ This probably sounds like vanity taking hold. I prefer to think that I’m looking for kinks in the algorithm so you don’t have to. The site occasionally has to warm up before providing credible information, is my point.

(In case you’re wondering, I channeled Canadian novelist/blogger Cory Doctorow while writing this post.)