Internet Tool Helps Choose A Writing Collaborator - InformationWeek

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3/28/2012
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F. Paul Wilson
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Internet Tool Helps Choose A Writing Collaborator

Is your writing style compatible with your proposed collaborator's? Use Textalyser first and learn to avoid wordy, boring blowhards like Marcel Proust.

F. Paul Wilson

As told by Repairman Jack...

Okay. One more piece on collaborating online. I thought the last entry would tie things up, but then Heide Goody (yeah, that's her name: @HeideGoody on Twitter), one of Wilson's longtime readers, pointed him toward something called Textalyser that analyzes, well, text. She seemed to think it was a good way to decide if your style is compatible with someone who might be a potential collaborator.

I reminded Wilson that a frequent comment about Draculas (the novel he wrote with three other guys) was that no one could be sure where one writer left off and another picked up the narrative. Part of that was due to the skillful editing by Crouch and Konrath, but compatibility of styles had a lot to do with it. Crouch, Konrath, Strand, and Wilson are all well versed in thrillerese.

What's thrillerese? That's my term for a writing style that emphasizes showing over telling and employs short paragraphs stocked with crisp declarative sentences minimizing passive voice, all punctuated by sharp, terse dialogue. Noir and detective fiction introduced it, but the modern thriller has made the style its own.

So, to test out Textalyzer, Wilson took a couple of first-draft pages from his collaborators and ran them through the program.The results are tabulated below.

 

Crouch

Konrath

Strand

Wilson

Total word count :

356

359

354

357

Number of different words :

271

267

278

252

% Words that are unique:

76.1%

74.4%

78.5%

70.6%

Readability (Gunning-Fog Index) : (6-easy 20-hard)

5.0

5.3

5.8

3.8

Average Syllables per Word:

1.57

1.7

1.51

1.37

Sentence count :

63

58

51

78

Average sentence length (words) :

9.74

11.2

12.6

8.37

Max sentence length (words) :

37

45

68

40

Min sentence length (words) :

1

1

1

1

Readability (Alternative) beta : (100-easy 20-hard, optimal 60-70)

64.5

71

66.4

82.4

In the first readability score--Gunning-Fog--lower is more readable, and the range is six to 20. All four of us earn a score of under 6.0. In the alternative readability score (last row), the higher the score, the more readable. Here, the first three of us are within seven points of each other--only Wilson busts the curve, but it's toward greater readability, which is never a bad thing.

Our sentence lengths all are very similar. Sentence length averages within four words. The maximum sentence length is within eight words except for Strand, whose sample passage happened to include a deliberate run-on.

Obviously Crouch, Konrath, Strand, and Wilson were well suited for collaboration. Textalyzer shows why Draculas reads so seamlessly.

But that set Wilson to wondering about his current collaborator. Sarah Pinborough is, after all, a Brit. Spelling and punctuation aside, there's the gender difference, plus cultural differences, and she used to teach English. Were they as compatible as he imagined?

So he used Textalyzer for first-draft passages from their contributions to the story. For the hell of it, I suggested Wilson throw in a passage from a writer whose style is the antithesis of thrillerese. He chose the opening paragraphs of Marcel Proust's cure for insomnia, Remembrance of Things Past.

Behold the results:

 

Wilson

Pinborough

Proust

Total word count :

417

405

415

Number of different words :

325

286

321

% Words that are unique:

77.9%

70.6%

77.3

Readability (Gunning-Fog Index) : (6-easy 20-hard)

3.5

5.1

10

Average Syllables per Word:

1.47

1.43

1.51

Sentence count :

101

67

41

Average sentence length (words) :

7.52

10.77

21.05

Max sentence length (words) :

24

34

78

Min sentence length (words) :

1

1

2

Readability (Alternative) beta : (100-easy 20-hard, optimal 60-70)

74.8

74.6

57.9

Note the Gunning-Fog readability: Wilson and Pins are under six, Proust is almost twice Pinborough's score and nearly triple Wilson's. Proust is about 17 points lower on the alternate readability score.

Average sentence length is within three words for Wilson and Pinborough, whereas Proust is double Pinborough's and almost triple Wilson's.

So it looks like Wilson and Pinborough will do okay on that story.

But neither should consider collaborating with Proust.


Repairman Jack is the alter ego of F. PAUL WILSON, an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than 40 novels and many more short stories. His work, spanning horror, adventure, medical thrillers, science fiction, young adult, and virtually everything between, has been translated into 24 languages. Currently he is best known as creator of the urban mercenary Repairman Jack.
http://www.repairmanjack.com / Twitter: @fpaulwilson / Facebook: facebook.com/fpaul.wilson

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