It all began with a question. Or, a request. During my latest round of submissions, I ran across this:
Include a short bio and describe your style.
My style? I don’t know my style. Themes, no problem. Genres, easy. But style?
So I did what any respectable writer does when met with a question like ‘What is my style?’ I asked my friends. Who all came back with different answers.
Then I went to my friend Google–the overly-popular, overly-opinionated friend who always gives me way too much information, but occasionally comes through with a gem. After typing in ‘How to describe my style’ a few academic websites popped up, mostly dealing with college essays, along with a handful of websites offering vague advice like ‘write consistently’, and the website I Write Like . . . which doesn’t define a style, but does claim to analyze your writing and compare it to the list of authors in its database. I’m not sure how the algorithm works, but I was willing to give a try.
I plugged in the latest short story I wrote. A cryptic story about a woman who must choose a husband, a ghost and hundreds of empty boots. So who does the site think I write like?
Interesting. Somehow I didn’t get The Godfather vibes when I wrote it (or read it for that matter), but okay.
Next up was a story about a girl who writes on herself that won honorable mention in a contest. My literary twin?
Never read him, sorry to say.
Time for the big test. I fed the site a chapter in Flameborne, broken into two page segments. Apparently the first two pages I write like Neil Gaiman, then I morph into David Foster Wallace. From him, I start writing like Anne Rice, Mary Shelley and end the chapter on a nice James Joyce note. Wow! Either I am the most scatterbrained, schizophrenic, multi-talented writer on the planet, or something is up with this algorithm.
I should have stopped. Walked away. Clicked the little x button and gone on with my life. But I’m a sucker for these things. I couldn’t stop. If I was great at IT, or statistics, or making my own algorithms, I would have some fantastic statistical data to share with you. Since I’m not, I won’t bore you with all the individual results. As it stands, I did end up with some of the same names showing up repeatedly as I plugged in more and more stories, poems, and blog posts. According to the website, I mostly write like:
David Foster Wallace
Margaret Atwood (interestingly enough, most of my poetry comes up paired to Atwood)
My general blog posts resemble Lovecraft, while Jakob’s Journal posts were always paired to Anne Rice. I haven’t read Wallace, or Rice (I did see a vampire movie, though), but I don’t think Gaiman and King sound like Atwood. So what accounts for the differences? I mean, besides the faulty algorithm?
I’m going to go with comments my friends left me about my style.
Friend #1: I’d say you’re more of a storyteller, adapting the style to the story.
Friend #1 is wise and beautiful, and also brews great beer. ‘Style’ boxes are overrated. I do adapt the style to the story, which would account for different styles, or voices. Jakob’s Journal (fantasy, epistolary) sounds completely different from “Bug Out” (speculative dystopian) and “Orbital Extraction“ (sci-fi) sounds nothing like Ashborne (epic fantasy).
Friend #2: Your style… yeah it’s so hard to put yourself in a box like that! You write intricate, fantastical, magical prose. Your poetry (that I´ve read) ranges from fantastical to handling the mundane in unique, fresh ways. You have a strong narrative voice across genres. But yeah that question is tough. Just quote Whitman and say “I contain multitudes.”
Friend #2 is also wise and beautiful. If you ever need advice, I suggest going to her.
The next time someone asks what my style is, I’m not going to worry about boxes, style descriptions, or who I write like. Instead I’m going to say, ‘I’m glad you asked. I contain multitudes.’
If you’d like to go check out the I Write Like website, go have some fun. Let me know who they compare you with.