You Know, I Kind Of Liked “The Tommyknockers.”

You Know, I Kind Of Liked “The Tommyknockers.”

I read on CNN.com today about a website where you type in a few paragraphs of your own writing and, after running some computations, this website informs you which famous author you write like.  (There are fifty to choose from, ranging from James Joyce to Dan Brown.)  Of course, I couldn’t resist, so I typed in the opening paragraph of my story “Clear Blue Michigan Sky”:

Sometimes, office ladies visit our scrapyard.  It’s better than ice cream or the blues, watching us and realizing life could be worse.  So welcome to evening shift at a GM plant: Gauntlet of Monotony to us, General Motors to you.  This particular office lady is watching the cranes lift and sort hot metal pipes.  It’s almost like an art exhibit, kinetic sculpture, and there’s a lot to admire, from the barnlike warehouses to miles of steel rails.  If she waits long enough, a cargo train will steam through the yard.

Steelhead arrives as the shift begins and flicks a cigarette at the office lady’s shoes.  She hops back.  Mr. Head is a new breed of American peasant, a punching bag of a man with a dry, cracked face and a white mustache colored from smoking.  He’s in his early fifties, never left Michigan and damn proud of it.  “You got no business here,” he says by way of hello.  But if she hears, she doesn’t acknowledge.  I like her a little more, wish she hadn’t flinched.

“She’s just looking,” I say.

I hit “Analyze” and this appeared on the screen:   

 

Untitled-4.jpg picture by robert9949

 
The picture got cut off, but the robot on the right is holding a banner that says, “Become a better writer!”  But at least I’m in good company.  Stephanie Chen, the author of the CNN article, entered in a transcript from one of President Obama’s speeches and he, too, writes like Stephen King.  If the president and I got together, could we write the next “From a Buick 8”?  Yes we can!

For good measure, I typed in the query letter I’d sent along with “Clear Blue Michigan Sky” and hit “Analyze.”  The result: “I write like David Foster Wallace.”

How exactly does this site work?  You might think it randomly generates an author name after you hit “Analyze.”  According to the author, the site uses an algorithm-based program.  From an interview reposted on the website:

Actually, the algorithm is not a rocket science, and you can find it on every computer today. It’s a Bayesian classifier, which is widely used to fight spam on the Internet. Take for example the “Mark as spam” button in Gmail or Outlook. When you receive a message that you think is spam, you click this button, and the internal database gets trained to recognize future messages similar to this one as spam. This is basically how “I Write Like” works on my side: I feed it with “Frankenstein” and tell it, “This is Mary Shelley. Recognize works similar to this as Mary Shelley.” Of course, the algorithm is slightly different from the one used to detect spam, because it takes into account more stylistic features of the text, such as the number of words in sentences, the number of commas, semicolons, and whether the sentence is a direct speech or a quotation.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.  When you’re ready to see which famous author you write like, click here.

The original article at CNN.com can be found here. An interview with the site’s creator can be found at The Awl.

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