I’ve never been so insulted in all my life

My attention was recently drawn to a website where, on submission of a sample of your writing, you will be told which author’s style your writing most resembles. Naturally, I was intrigued. Being an unashamed narcissist, I was hoping that my writing may possess the elegance of Austen, or the clarity of Stevenson, or even perhaps – who knows? – the meticulous perfection of Flaubert, or the extravagant flamboyance of Dickens, or the epic splendour of Lawrence at his finest.

So I submitted the entire text of an earlier post from this blog, and you know which writer their programme thought my writing most resembled? Dan Brown. Yes, Dan Bloody Brown.

Now, I think I could reconcile myself to possessing Mr Brown’s literary talents if I were to be compensated with Mr Brown’s literary wealth, but to possess the former without the latter is really the worst of all possible worlds.

I feel emotionally shattered.

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46 responses to this post.

  1. I love this post! And please accept my sincerest condolences.

    Reply

  2. Oh dear – I’m sure it’s not true. I can prove it to you: I clicked on the link you gave and pasted across a couple of paragraphs from a random blog post of mine. Apparently I write like David Foster Wallace. Much as I would love this to be true, it’s really not. So rest assured that literary style-wise, you are not the next Dan Brown. But I will keep my fingers crossed for you that you become the next Dan Brown wealth-wise.

    Reply

  3. My condolences! I fed that website a chapter from each of five different novels of mine and got five different results:
    Harry Harrison
    Rudyard Kipling
    George Orwell
    Vladimir Nabokov
    Anne Rice

    I don’t know who Harry Harrison is.

    Reply

    • I have no idea who Harry Harrison is either! This site could be fun if they had programmed it a bit better, and had a wider pool of writers. It does raise the question of what makes for a writer’s – any writer’s – individual style, and to what extent this may be pinned down to specific features identifiable by a computer programme. But i suspect that even a semi-sophisticated programme of this nature will be far greater work that it’s worth.

      Reply

      • Posted by Theodulf on May 1, 2014 at 9:23 pm

        I don’t know how many Harry Harrisons there are, but the one I know about was (is?) a sci-fi writer whose stuff I remember from the 1960’s or so. His stuff would be serialized in If or Analog or such magazines. I found him pretty entertaining but I was about 10 at the time…

  4. I got two results: H. P. Lovecraft and David Foster Wallace. I haven’t read either of them. In fact, who is H.P. Lovecraft? If I keep trying can I get a George Orwell or Vladimir Nabokov?

    Reply

    • Lovecraft is something of a cult figure to aficionados of supernatural fiction – or “weird fiction” as it is sometimes known. He can be very effective at times, but, unlike most fellow aficionados of supernatural fiction, I am not very keen on the “Chthulu” mythology that underpins his work.

      Reply

  5. So sorry for your loss. Chin up, better days will come. 😀

    Reply

    • Thanks very much for the encouragement!

      Reply

      • Posted by Theodulf on May 1, 2014 at 9:29 pm

        It’s not like there’s nothing you can do about it, you know. Did you miss the stuff in the upper right corner where it says:

        “Become a better writer!

        “Subscribe to our awesome free newsletter to learn how to become a better writer and receive monthly tips on writing.”

        I write like Cory Doctorow, apparently…. I suppose I can find out who that is if I want

      • Hello, I don’t think we need take the “analysis” of this site too seriously! I personally like to think that my style of writing is actually quite unique… 🙂

  6. You’ve clearly shown the limits of this kind of algorithm. Either that, or the website in question is so good that it divined your attitude toward Dan Brown and has a wicked sense of humor.

    Reply

  7. Cheer up man, you’ve been compared to a computer by a computer (Don’t you think computer programs write Brown’s books?) You could have been compared to EL James, and THAT would have been insulting. 🙂

    Reply

  8. Posted by Di on March 31, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Hahahahahahahhahahahahahahahaa.
    (Sorry. Couldn’t help it).

    Reply

  9. On the bright side, you’ll soon be rolling in cash and making movie deals.

    Reply

  10. I entered:

    Laurence Sterne, and it returned Daniel Defoe
    Emile Zola and Balzac, and it returned HP Lovecraft
    Hermann Melville, and it returned Edgar Allan Poe
    Henry James, and it returned Vladimir Nabokov
    Chekhov, and it returned Harry Harrison (whoever he is)
    Edgar Allan Poe, and it returned Edgar Allan Poe
    HP Lovecraft, and it returned HP Lovecraft
    Daniel Defoe, and it returned HP Lovecraft (I chose an obscure story this time, figuring for the above two it might be matching the exact texts)
    I myself write severally like Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe

    William Faulkner also apparently writes like Dan Brown, so you’re in good company.

    Reply

    • I tried a few passages from Joyce, and it identified all of those correctly. then I tried passages of Nabokov, and it got those right as well. But a friend of mine tried the speech in The Tempest beginning with “this isle is full of noises”. and it came back with Mark Twain!

      Reply

  11. Posted by Carolyn on March 31, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Ah vanity, vanity, all is vanity, Himadri.

    I haven’t read Dan Brown but there still seems to me something very wrong with a programme which could possibly put your writing on a par with his. Perhaps you chose the wrong piece? Try again, and who knows, it might be Tolstoy this time. Maybe not.

    Reply

    • No, no .. I am happy with Dan Brown! When you know and have digested the worst about yourself, you reconcile yourself to it, and lead the rest of your life a sadder but wiser man…

      I’ve read passages from Dan Brown browsing through bookshops. I actually found it hard to read. There was absolutely nothing in the prose to hold my attention, and I found it very easy reading entire pages without taking anything in, as my mind had wandered on to something else…

      Reply

  12. Posted by Carolyn on March 31, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    PS I sent the following (which was published in my newspaper) and was told I write like William Gibson – should I know him? I don’t seem to. But at least he’s not Dan Brown!

    Caro.

    What’s in a woman’s handbag? he asked. And what’s it for?

    Did he really want to know, I wondered. Because it could be a rather long saga. So I made a list. Later I showed this to someone and asked what it was. “A poem?” they suggested. What – a haiku of about 50 lines?

    My handbag, which I generally call a purse to the confusion of more literally-minded people, is comprised of three main compartments. It’s always a bit tricky to know just how to divide these, but at the moment my three are for health/make-up items, written material, and the rest. The rest is my glasses, a pair of broken glasses, a plastic fork, some beads, the cell phone which I never use, mostly because I can’t. (“Which button do you think I should press to make it start? Yes, I can write the text, but where is the list of people to send it to? It’s NOT WORKING!”) There is also 4 pens, 4 batteries (for the digital camera) and a book. I do not leave the house without a book and my bag is as good a place for it as any.

    I seem to have a chemist shop in my bag. I see two lipsticks, a perfume, sun lotion, Lion mints, Mylanta, lip gloss, one Strepsil, elastoplast, panty liners, a toothbrush (looking a little tatty by now), an Oraltone spray, the air freshener they give you on aeroplanes, a hanky, paper hankies, an asthma inhaler. The latter was the cause of a little consternation on the part of my doctor recently when I showed my Ventolin to her. “These have not been on the market for several years.” I now have two inhalers in my bag – the old one and a new one. Well, I don’t like waste. This section also contains my sewing kit with a broken plastic cover held together by rubber bands. This has a tiny pair of metal scissors which have crossed the world happily and just twice been noticed, once by Singapore officials who looked at it closely and then gave it back and once in Australia where again they were handed back. Travelling is tricky with my handbag – official notices coming into a country ask if you have anything that could be illegal, such as medicines. So I dutifully tick that I have medicines and then I am expected to name them. Does anyone know the names of the medicines they carry round with them for all sorts of emergencies. I look helpless and they impatiently wave me through.

    You need things to write on when you are away from home. I have a book of addresses and email addresses, a notebook of books I want to read, another notebook of interesting quotations, another notebook for things to remember, and two little booklets for sundry somethings, another couple of pens, and is this little green shiny-covered thing another tiny booklet?

    There isn’t a real place for the food items in my bag and I am a little surprised to see that today there are no 2-month old pieces of cake. Cafés make their slices and biscuits far too large so frequently the left-overs are put into my purse – ‘for my supper’. Somehow they are less appetising when you find them glued to their paper napkin weeks later. I hope the next confession doesn’t bring the arm of the law down on me, but there are 6 raw sugar sachets in my bag, the result of restaurant coffees. I don’t like white sugar in my coffee so these are for those times when that is all that is available. They are surreptitiously popped into my purse when they are around. If the service has been poor or the food awful, I add an extra one. And there is a bottle of water making my purse very heavy.

    There are, of course, other little side pockets in my bag and one of these has cards. Seventeen cards of varying use, my licence, my father’s war details in case we are anywhere to look these up and a receipt for the groceries.

    The one thing that is not in my handbag at the moment is a money purse. It has mysteriously gone missing. I felt sure it would turn up somewhere but my husband insists it has been stolen and that is my own fault for leaving things casually around. It’s better for it to be stolen, I think, than just lost – at least this way someone is using the money. On the other hand that would mean there are thieves around, not something my naïve mind wants to contemplate.

    Some people have been known to suggest that my purse is too large and contains too many items. But what do they do, with their miniature spangly bags, when their husband asks for the Codrals or the garden club wonders who has any matches to light the candles, or the muffler breaks off the car on a snowy English night. On that occasion I was able to assuage guilt feelings (my husband was the one under the car getting soaked while I sat comfortably offering advice) by saying “Would the survival blanket be good?” The survival blanket had lived in my bag for over 15 years waiting for us to be abandoned in Arthur’s Pass and at last it found its niche. (It has since been replaced – a Christmas present from my husband.)

    So my purse is nothing less than a miniature house, containing all those things necessary for my survival. Add a pair of knickers and some washing powder and I could travel the world for a year with nothing more.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Carolyn on April 1, 2014 at 2:30 am

    On the subject of algorithms being suspect I am listening to someone on the radio right now who has had a column, I think oddly enough, in the New York Times, about love. Daniel Jones. He said in his research he joined an online dating thing and so did his wife. Apart from both saying they were single, they answered all the questions truthfully and they have lots in common that you might expect to be important in such programmes, but not once were they linked up together by the computer programme.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Neil on April 1, 2014 at 11:58 am

    I entered a couple of lines of utter gibberish – not even words, just random groups of letters. I got Kurt Vonnegut. Tried a different load of gibberish and got Ernest Hemingway. The program obviously comes up with authors’ names at random for each entry. You have to wonder what the point is!

    Reply

    • Well, whatever its point, at least it gave me a good laugh! I can’t help wondering, though, whether a good programme can be written that can identify individual prose styles. It would be an interesting project.

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  15. I know a lot of people are claiming this website to be bogus, to be flawed, but I just copied and pasted a passage by Vladimir Nabokov, and the machine told me I write like Nabokov. The machine doesn’t lie. Sorry, my friend, a style a la Dan Brown is a shame you shall have to be bear for the rest of your life.

    Reply

    • Yes, I tried that Nabokov experiment also. And similar experiments with Joyce. But then again, if you read Shaloma’s post, or Obooki’s, you get a different picture! I suspect that they have put in a handful of criteria, and that if the submitted writing does not match any of these criteria, it is allocated a random writer.

      Reply

  16. Posted by Di on April 1, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    You can feel better now. I just got Stephenie Meyer -.-

    Reply

  17. Clearly the website you mentioned has a limited pool of authors. I entered several paragraphs from different chapters of a romantic novel I’m writing, and was informed that my writing in some parts is like that of James Joyce and in others, like R.L. Stevenson.
    So, just for the hell of it, I entered a few paragraphs of Nietzche. Apparently, his writing is like that of Mary Shelley.
    And, if you think that’s outrageous – I tried them with a few lines of SHakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”.
    You will no doubt be amused (or horrified) to know that the Bard’s writing resembles that of James Joyce…

    Reply

  18. I also tried them with a couple of extracts from the Bible. One from the Book of Psalms (no.23) and one from the Book of Genesis. Apparently, King David’s style of writing favours that of James Joyce. Very flattering for JJ.
    God, on the other hand, doesn’t come off so well. If this website is to be believed, the Almighty writes like –

    Dan Brown!

    Reply

    • Aha! If this programme reckons that the Almighty writes like Dan Brown, then the whole thing could be a conspiracy organized by the Illuminati! There could be a thriller in all this … and seemingly, I am just the person to write it!

      Reply

  19. Posted by alan on April 3, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    H.P. Lovecraft

    Reply

  20. I tired different posts of mine and got Ian Fleming, Dan Brown, James Joyce and HP Lovecraft. I doubt I write like each of them on different days 😉

    Reply

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