Scribbler’s Saga #76 – I Write Like…

Posted: November 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

It’s amazing how much weird writer/musician/creator stuff lands on me through my Facebook feed. Just have to have that programmable music box, where I’ll likely be the weirdo composer writing for harmonica and said music box? Facebook. That amazing inconvenient ReMarkable digital writing tablet (see post)? Facebook. And don’t get me started on several links promising to make me a better writer, yet again…Facebook. And then there was the link to I Write Like [dot] com.

A simple promise…insert quite a bit of text in the box and they’ll tell me the published writer with an actual career or legendary deceased status that my writing most matches. Oh, wow…yet another bit of catnip for me to while away the two minutes this app takes out of my not actually writing time! Sign me up.

Long story short, I came up Cory Doctorow. And just because I’ve been around enough Internet oddities, like Facebook’s algorithm and everyone’s love/hate with the same, I’m going to run these things twice. Hell, I’m even going to do the old fashioned thing and click through from my Google prompt, just in case, and use different blocks of prose. Still, Cory Doctorow.

I’ve never read Mr. Doctorow, whom, until I looked him up on Wikipedia, I’d assumed was related to the other Mr. Doctorow, E.L. Doctorow. Apparently, Doctorow is as common as Smith in some parts of the world. Learn something new everyday from Wikipedia (except when Wiki is wrong). Full disclosure, I at least have a couple old paperbacks written by E.L. Doctorow, deemed absolutely irrelevant to this story, on my cluttered bookshelves. And you’ll understand why I’ve yet to read him too…as in have you seen my personal library?

Intrigued by the result of Cory Doctorow, I did quickly download the ePub/Kindle files for one of his books. As of this writing, it’s still unread and driven by whatever personal deadlines I put on me for this site; I just went ahead with this post. I figured I’d just talk about what I perceive about my own style (assuming you can trust me to see without blinders).

But, I did pay attention to a few tidbits in Mr. Doctorow’s biography as reported on Wikipedia and Amazon, just in case there’s is something to the theory that certain aspects of writing style related to similarities in background. We are both more or less from the Gen X cohort and his extensive publishing record is that of someone who didn’t self-diagnose as an ADHD poster child.

He writes about technology and related issues with far more expertise than me. I just break machines and software and write about the experience with an eye towards letting people know how the tech actually makes the user’s life and productivity better. In this vein, despite being asked over the years to plug the right cables into the TV or the stereo system by even less technically proficient family members, I’ve always seen myself as a technological chimpanzee.

I pound keys until I make it work and learn in the process. And you better believe there’s a direct reference to the famous thought experiment of infinite chimpanzees with infinite typewriters eventually producing War & Peace. I am a smarty pants which shows up in odd ways.

The most interesting similarity, sort of, between Mr. Doctorow and me is in our feelings about copyrights. He very much believes that current copyright law and procedure are slightly restrictive to how things work in the new digital economy and should be adjusted accordingly. For my part, when it comes to my words no way am I nearly as progressive; I write a book, no way do I not fight for that copyright under the current law throwing the kind of elbows to make your grandchildren feel it.

However, I have said this, “if there were some way to ensure the musicians and composers still got paid fairly, I would advocate for rules that only apply to music that acknowledge the largely derivative nature of the art form.” This is simply because we live in a musical universe where the drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven becomes the setting for The Star Spangled Banner. Or John Brown’s Body becomes The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Or that We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore and Oh, Come All Ye Faithful share the same tune. And let’s not forget that pretty much every third title in the Classical database is “Variations on a Theme by…” But, of course, more on these subjects to come later…in my composing column.

So anyway, I’ve listed some basic however tenuous similarities between Mr. Doctorow and myself. It will fall to someone else who has actually built an academic career analyzing the interplay between the background and life arc of the writer and the style of how those words appear on the page to say more. I just write, Man. And dark ugly truth, I hoped for Alexandre Dumas as translated into English. Pipe dream there.

And so now we have the artless segue to what I perceive about my own style versus Mr. Doctorow, so that when we collectively put my books side by side we’ll see if this site’s algorithm knows its stuff.

First off, I try to avoid To Be sentences which might be the first indicator that I have approximately three minutes of journalism training including reading Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style. I will assume that Mr. Doctorow with his considerably more than three minutes journalism training and work experience was taught to write more or less the same way. We’ll see when I quiet the noise monster that sometimes keeps me from reading, instead of writing, and I block out the time for his book. Score one for common training methods creating a common style instead of any high-falutin’ psychological analysis.

I shoot for paragraphs of three to five sentences of maybe twenty-five words each anchored by an active verb. Again, see the bit above about which books I read and classes I’ve taken for why my style looks the way it does. But, I also drop in sentences with a single digit number of words where I’ve semi-consciously dropped out the To Be construction. My memory of the millions of words written to date says this is a direct consequence of several journalism classes, mixed with just sitting down to do my words.

If you put the points of the preceding paragraphs together, you’ll understand why me writing like Alexandre Dumas defines pipe dream for the next three centuries. In the 19th Century the writing ethic of short sentences had yet to take hold. And then you have to figure that Dumas wrote in the French of the time and that I would be taking style cues from one of many translators, not exactly the same thing. I must just love any story with swords and has a cool bunch of friendship, the kind that start with a fistfight.

Getting back to my style, it’s pretty clear that I break my own rules when I feel I need to. I have a bunch of and so, first off and other transitional indicators in this very post. And other times I strangle these quirks in their crib when I edit. I love me my ellipses and M-dashes. I probably continually give Mr. Blatz (the good English teacher of my past seen through rose colored glasses) conniptions concerning my fluid usage of commas, until I get to edit the damn thing.

A style has more to it than than sentence structure. Choice in content also applies. I write oddball stuff with an occasional hint of black humor. Comes from being the kid that read the Bible cover to cover by the time I was fifteen. Pretty much, I have Greco-Roman mythology backwards and forwards and do okay with the Norse. I read Shakespeare because I can having flushed how certain bad teachers tried to kill the Bard for me.

I seem go for a small handful of basic character types. Sometimes I’m just knowingly doing Bilbo Baggins, the stalwart fellow of good cheer launched into a great quest by external forces. Other times, I’ll do an empire building story where a kinder gentler version of Julius Caesar builds a unified society and then prevents it from degenerating into tyranny. I also greatly respect journalists and certain kinds of lawyers more than even Shakespeare says I should. And sometimes, I’m just doing an off-kilter version of myself acting out my fantasies of any of the above. Lastly, all of my characters are either huge music fans and/or play instruments as is my current aspiration, loving it LOUD.

Presumably, these points will be where Mr. Doctorow and I will diverge the most in the side-by-side analysis. It was fun to learn these things even if the egotistical part of me wants to get into the database so that people will one day write like G.N. Jacobs. Don’t worry, there are pills for that. So with that…get back to your own writing!

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