This evening, I was enjoying science trivia night at the museum with a longtime improv friend who blogs at The Flehmen Response under the name Sparky MacMillan. (Disclaimer: This is his nom-de-plume. I don’t call him this. I use his name. Partly because I’ve known him by that name for over a quarter of a century. Mostly because having my closest friends be named Mookie and Sparky is bad for my image. It makes people think they’re imaginary. And I’m pretty sure they’re not.)
Anyway, we were talking about blogging, and he mentioned a website he had found a while back called I Write Like, which takes samples of prose and analyzes them against the writings of about 50 authors to determine who your writing style compares best to.
This got me intrigued, so I went and found the website. I plugged in about two dozen or so samples from my blog. Here’s some of the results:
- The most common match (around 40%, I would estimate) was Edgar Allen Poe, followed by Margaret Mitchell (maybe 20%). Poe, as every English major learns in college, was famous for his obsession with robots and Scarlett Johansson. (He was very much ahead of his time.)
- I got multiple responses for James Joyce, Cory Doctorow, and Dan Brown, and a few one-offs.
- I took a series of 4 posts I wrote about my hand surgery a couple years ago. Two of the four (the first and last) came back Stephen King, indicating I guess that I ended the story badly.
- One other sequence I did was 3 different stories to explain the “Legend of Moleskine” sign I saw at Barnes & Noble. One came back as Douglas Adams (a particularly proud moment). The other two came back as H.P. Lovecraft.
I don’t have nearly the ego to take any of this seriously, but I find stuff like this fascinating, the same way people on Facebook post which Harry Potter character they are most like. (Disclaimer: No, I don’t know which Harry Potter character I’m most like, unless it’s the one that doesn’t want to know what Harry Potter character he’s like.) Douglas Adams is one of my favorite authors, so being compared to him is flattering. I gave my friend Stephanie a couple of Dave Barry books as a baby shower present, and she told me when she read them, she kept hearing his words in my voice, which is also flattering, as he is another of my favorite humor writers. It’s dangerous to believe stuff like that, but it’s still nice to hear.
I read the “About” section of the website, and with only 51 authors in its database to compare with, a certain amount of redundancy is expected. The site creator describes the algorithm used to correlate the writing styles as based on a Bayesian classifier, the same algorithm that is used in spam filters. Which I guess means that reading A Labor of Like is the equivalent of getting spam mail from Edgar Allen Poe and Margaret Mitchell.
You can read more about it in my upcoming book, Gone with the Raven.
(Disclaimer: According to I Write Like, this post was written in the style of Edgar Allen Poe*. The original e-mail that I sent to Sparky on this subject was written in the style of Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita. You’re welcome for the rewrite.)
* A critical literary deconstruction of the stylistic similarities between this post and Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart would be weird and creepy. Hopefully in a Poe way, and not in a Nabokov way.