Saturday 4 May 2013

Writer's Diet

(Image courtesy of CHRISSPdotCOM)

I recently discovered The WritersDiet Test. As a concept, I really like it.

Invented by Helen Sword, a creative writing scholar with a Princeton PhD in Comparative Literature. Essentially, she knows her stuff.

The idea behind the programme is that 'good' writing appears to have a healthy balance of verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs and 'it, this, that, there's. By feeding in a sample of between 100-1,000 words, the programme analyses the frequency of these items and gives the piece a rating of: Lean, Fit & Trim, Needs Toning, Flabby or Heart Attack Territory.

Yes, I know there will be people rolling their eyes at this. As a quick litmus test though, it's quite good fun. I remember a friend in a writing group telling us that the turning point in her work came when she learned to stick to just one adjective. It's not always easy to change your style, but this at least provides a starting point.

I decided to do a little test of my own. I wondered whether my own styles of writing scored differently.

I ran three pages of my debut novel after it had been through editing. First-person, historical fiction (click to enlarge):

Not bad. If you click 'full diagnostic' on your results, it points out where the specific problem words are and makes helpful suggestions on how to improve.

Next, I ran a couple of pages of the first novel that I ever wrote, pre-edit. Loose sci-fi/horror, third person. I hold my hands up and admit that I cringe a little when I look back at my style. I've spent a lot of time writing over the past couple of years and I'd like to think that a little of that effort has paid off. Therefore, I was rather surprised to see this:

It actually scored better. Oddly, it scored exactly the same after editing. This might be because it was a small sample in comparison to the entire MS.

The extremely strange thing is that a fantasy story I wrote when I was sixteen also scored the exact same bars. This is where the human eye is required. All of the elements may have been there in the right proportion, but an adult reader would certainly notice a difference in quality between my first stumbling attempts and the above sample.

After that, I ran the introduction to a technical report that I wrote for an EU project. I consider this to be one of the best examples of professional writing that I've ever produced. Sadly, the Dietitian didn't agree:

Ouch. Need to do a bit more digging to decipher whether that's a technicality of technical writing, or whether I really was having an off day.

Finally, I ran a recent blog post through it:

Not too bad.

Interestingly, when you run the author's biog through the test, it turns out that her prepositions need toning.

The test doesn't claim to be a cure-all, it freely admits that:

The WritersDiet Test is a blunt instrument, not a magic bullet. A stylish passage may score badly on the test, and a dull passage may score well. It is up to you to make intelligent use of the targeted feedback that the test provides.

All things considered, I think it's quite useful.

1 comment:

  1. Graphs in lots of colours! Must try this out.. because procrastination needs feeding.