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Every question can be answered by computers, apparently, including What’s the difference between bestselling fiction and fiction that doesn’t sell?

Oh hell, am I supposed to make you click a link??? Have this relevant blockquote instead:

They took the first 1,000 sentences of 4,129 books of poetry and 1,117 short stories and then analyzed them for various factors. They looked at parts of speech, use of grammar rules, the use of phrases, and “distribution of sentiment” – a way of measuring the use of words.

They found that successful books made great use of conjunctions to join sentences (“and” or “but”) and prepositions than less successful books. They also found a high percentage of nouns and adjectives in the successful books; less successful books relied on more verbs and adverbs to describe what was happening.

More successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. The results varied by genre, but books that are less successful, the researchers reported, used words like “wanted,” “took” or “promised.” Successful authors employed “recognized” or “remembered.”

“It has to do with showing versus caring,” Choi said. “In order to really resonate with readers, instead of saying ‘she was really really sad,’ it might be better to describe her physical state, to give a literal description. You are speaking more like a journalist would.”

Communications researchers believe journalists use more nouns, pronouns, and prepositions than other writers because those word forms give more information, Choi explained.

“Novelists who write more like journalists have literary success,” she said.

And to think that I deleted all those prepositional phrases from my books because I thought they were unnecessary! Josh Helman might be playing Ray Lilly in the movie version right now if only I’d left them in.

More seriously, color me skeptical that Choi’s analysis above, which boils down to showing vs telling, is more than post hoc rationalization (or a mundane error in science journalism) since it seems to contradict the paragraph before, which says “actions and emotions” take second place to “thought processes” in successful books. It’s almost as though the data has to be twisted to fit the popular model of how to write well.

It’s almost enough to make me grab a Lee Child novel off the library shelf to see how much ink is spent “retaliating first” and how much analyzing story beats.

At the back end of the article, a writing teach claims that the research must be all wrong, since it’s verbs that make for good writing, and that people choose books based on subject matter rather than style.

Both statements might be true, but good writing is not the same as popular writing, and if you’ve got the subject matter, maybe there’s a boost to be gained by writing in a journalistic style.

Which, honestly, is interesting to think about, but which I’ll completely forget about by the time I return to my current book. I just gotta do my own thing. As much as I’d like to be successful, I suspect I’m immune to the advice that could make that happen.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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