From Dickinson To Lovecraft – How Did That Happen?

Well, it happened unexpectedly and leisurely this past Sunday afternoon. An Internet browsing happenstance. I’d been reading a few poems by Emily Dickinson thinking it would as it so often does get my mind in gear for a bit of writing, but sometimes the mind resists and insists on time off. So I went online instead and rediscovered a fun link which I had bookmarked a while back, the I Write Like site (http://iwl.me/) which runs a statistical analysis on any English text you paste in and tells you which famous writer’s style that piece of text resembles. I promptly busied myself typing in a sample from Dickinson’s 1764, starting not at the beginning of this poem but from “Between the March and April line -” and cut things short then at “Made cruelly more dear.”

IWL was quick to tell me that the writing is like H.P. Lovecraft, and from there one thing just led to another. I read “At the Mountains of Madness” online and oh boy, isn’t it just so easy to grab books onto the Kindle – the Complete Collection is now mine. Never mind whether Dickinson really writes like Lovecraft, she doesn’t, and I wasn’t all that fair to the statistical engine by submitting such a short sample, and poetry no less, but the really cool thing is that this has prompted me to read something that I would not otherwise have chosen to add to my reading list.

From-Dickinson-to-Lovecraft-in-a-tiffOf course I couldn’t resist submitting a couple of samples of my own writing to receive the statistical verdict of which famous writer’s style it resembles – so much fun, want to give it a try and share the outcome?

For the latest flash piece I posted here, “Transformation”, IWL very flatteringly tells me that I write like Ernest Hemingway, ahem. It thinks I write like Dan Brown based on “The Apple Tree”.  Really?

Now let’s see what happens when I copy all of the above and paste it into the analyser. Ha, what do you know, turns out I now write like H.P. Lovecraft, too!

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8 thoughts on “From Dickinson To Lovecraft – How Did That Happen?

    1. So you don’t think I write like the great Hemingway then? Aw. 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by, good to see you again! And I agree with you, it’s not accurate. It’s a pleasing thought that there must be limitations to what a statistical engine can do when faced with so much creativity and nuances all around. There’s obviously more to distinctive individual writing styles than choice of words, syntax and punctuation habits, anything that can be statistically evaluated. It’s good fun though, and it amused me when I came around full circle and ended up with the Lovecraft similitude again. What I did notice on quickly re-reading what I wrote in this post is that it contains rather long sentences. A lot of commas. Even the odd emdash. That looks suspiciously like something that could have resulted from reading “At the Mountains of Madness” that afternoon.

  1. It’s fun to play around with. For a piece of my writing, the analyzer came back with Isaac Asimov. Hey, I read Asimov as a kid. I wonder if the style somehow lodged in my brain.

    1. Excellent, so glad you had a bit of fun with this, too! Interesting result that, thanks for sharing this and good to see you here again. My Sunday afternoon funtime actually made me curious about statistical analysis of literary styles and I found some interesting papers about it like for example this one: http://www.biostat.jhsph.edu/~rpeng/papers/archive/authorship-tas2-final.pdf, I am intrigued, I would have thought that characteristics like average sentence length and vocabulary usage (as in how varied) would be the key elements for analysis, but no it seems it’s the usage of the little “function words” – which ones an author uses and how frequently – that are the most useful in trying to distinguish styles because they are being used subconsciously.

  2. I had a bit of fun with this too and it came up with David Foster Wallace for me, which I found a bit hard to swallow or believe. Except maybe that my sentences are way too long?

    1. Hm, I think the focus of the analysis is very much on stylistic elements and not so much message and content so it could well have something to do with average number of words per sentence in the piece you submitted. Nothing wrong with long sentences though! 😉 There’s an interesting interview with the programmer at this link from around the time the IWL first went live: http://www.theawl.com/2010/07/a-qa-with-the-creator-of-i-write-like-the-algorithm-is-not-a-rocket-science.

    1. Thanks so much for camping out here for a while and very happy to hear that you enjoyed yourself. Already looking forward to having you back visiting here in a bit.

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