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Friday, January 29, 2016

Fair warning

Marly Youmans, free of smirks
and tiny emotions
for what seems a zillion years.
At once I am irresistibly impelled to write a novel in which you will find giants and bears, tea and rats, long Faulknerian sentences, and complicated actions and emotions i.e. feels in current parlance. I predict absolutely no smirks and egregious facial expressions, no technology whatsoever, no crime, and no mystery to solve.

Can readers embrace such a book? I shall not worry but shall clutch the giants and bears to my non-bestsellerdom heart or bosom or some such, and rejoice. I suppose that's rather perverse--not the clutching to bosom, heart, etc. but the rejoicing in foiling the work of digital text analysis--but it's me all over. Onward!
Over the past several Saturdays, the French-language Montreal daily has conducted a competitive experiment in using digital text analysis as a way to change the way writers write. The paper asked five established Quebec novelists to compose a story of about 1,200 words using guidelines produced by .txtLAB from a study of 200 titles from the New York Times bestselling fiction list.

Common features of American bestsellers, according to .txtLAB director Andrew Piper, are short sentences (11 words on average), simple actions relayed with active verbs, frequent descriptions of facial expressions and characters who are into technology and have a mystery or violent crime to solve. These books avoid complex emotions, uncertainty and nature description, he says, as well as tea, rats, giants and bears. --Robert Everett Green, Can Computers Teach You to Write a Bestseller? at The Globe and Mail (Montreal)
More Bullington-Youmans frolics coming up soon. No quantitative analysis allowed.


  1. About 95% of that prescription would cover the instructions on the back of a bottle of Blastit!, a newly introduced fluid for clearing blocked drains. Facial expressions? That would be the ectatic smile radiated by a Blastit! user; nothing like an unblocked drain for feeling at one with the Universe.

    However, I must confess to loving technology. Does my invisible licence still hold? I could recommend you the best can-opener in the world and append six cogent reasons.

    1. My daughter just told me via Facebook that she would be very pleased if I would write such a book!

      Blastit! That sounds like road rage for drains... I expect the house might be in seven pieces. Though, given road rage, the radiant (though slightly crazed) smile might still apply.

      Well, we all use technology. I'm very grateful not to have to type and re-type manuscripts as we did in the old days... And on that note, back to work!

  2. I look forward to the sounds and furies of the meandering mud-covered bears and the web-footed gap-toothed giants within your Faulknerian labyrinths.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.