Monday, 19 July 2010

I write like Kurt Vonnegut

I write like Kurt Vonnegut, apparently.

I know – fantastic, isn't it? Who wouldn't want to write like the author of Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five?

Before the tsunami of scepticism hits me, I hasten to add that this piece of information comes to me not as the result of a late-night session with a colleague at a bar, where one would then be expected to reciprocate with, “And you write like Ernest Hemingway” before ending up on the well-trodden path of “You're my beshtesht friend, you are”. No, this is a scientific conclusion. Well, slightly scientific.

There is a fascinating website called “I Write Like...” which, if you copy and paste an example of your writing into a box on the homepage, guarantees to compare your writing style to various famous writers and calculate your nearest equivalent. After feeding this program two paragraphs of my previous blog I was informed that Kurt Vonnegut's sentence structure and use of language most closely matches mine, which was something of a surprise since, although I read Vonnegut regularly when at school and university, it has been many years since our literary paths have crossed.

At its worst the history of literary influence has led to cases of plagiarism, but most writers admit to it, much of it incongruous rather than blindingly obvious; hence the chick-lit writer who cites Gertrude Stein or the creator of hairy-chested heroes who was first driven to write by Jane Austen. The ghosts of the writers that we most admire are rarely evident in our prose. For instance, I love George Orwell's cunningly crafted transparent style, which has a deadpan quality that I would kill to recreate, yet I know I can't; I'm far too much of a loud, gobby show-off to reach those magnificently pared-down heights.

The only writer with whom I was previously compared was Cormac McCarthy. I hadn't even read any of his novels at this point but a kindly writing tutor made the allusion. I had submitted a short story that must have accidentally contained elements of his sparse style, but this had resulted from inexperience rather than skill. The story contained nothing more than its bare bones because at this point I hadn't grasped the importance of creating an atmosphere. When I later read my first McCarthy I laughed. The likeness was as absurd as comparing Cheryl Cole to Dusty Springfield.

If you have any interest in writing do have a look at the website. You might be as surprised by the result as I was. Of course, I know that I don't REALLY write like Kurt Vonnegut, but I was pleased to be linked to him.

After sending the link to the website to a friend, she submitted her recipe for Welsh cakes. The program reckons that her nearesr match is Dan Brown and, after suffering through Angels and Demons, I can't say I'm surprised.

I'd sooner be not nearly as good as McCarthy and Vonnegut than as good as Dan Brown.