And a bit of a mash-up for today, as well!
One of my favorite writing panels at Polaris was ‘Making Sentences’, with James Alan Gardner. James seemed to have a lot of ideas about how to hone your skill with the nitty-gritty workmanship of writing, as his panel title sort of implies, and one approach that he mentioned went along these lines:
Pick a passage that you like out of a favorite book, and try to change as many of the words as possible with alternates that fill the same grammatical role, to tell a story that you want to tell.
It’s sort of an extreme madlibs exercise, with a piece of writing that you like as the template, and among other elements the idea seems to be to dissect the original passage to learn as much as you can about how it works by getting your fingers dirty with what’s in there.
I’m going to try this with the opening to ‘So you want to be a wizard,’ by Diane Duane – a great opening page I’ve thought for many years. And I’m going to combine the exercise with a little experiment at http://iwl.me/
The IWL site, ‘I write like,’ is supposed to analyze your writing style and compare it to a database of possible writers to see who you’re most like. I’ve tried it with many of my own passages, and heard about some other people’s submissions, but my suspicion is that it’s a fairly superficial analysis that doesn’t really get close to the heart of what I’d call ‘style.’
I also want to stress that I am not endorsing or recommending anything that’s up for sale or giveaway on IWL, and have heard some uncomplimentary things about the ultimate aims of the people running it. Myself, I just think that the submission tool itself is kinda fun, and I’m not really interested in clicking on any other links there.
So I want to send in the original version by Diane Duane, and my ‘mad-libbed’ version of the same passage, and we’ll see if IWL thinks that the style is different.
So, first, here’s the original passage in the book:
Part of the problem, Nita thought as she tore desperately down Rose Avenue, is that I can’t keep my mouth shut.
She had been running for five minutes now, hopping fences, sliding sideways through hedges, but she was losing her wind. Some ways behind her she could hear Joanne and Glenda and the rest of them pounding along in pursuit, threatening to replace her latest, now-fading black eye. Well, Joanne would come up to her with that new bike, all chrome and siler and gearshift levers and speedometer/odometer and toe clips and water bottle, and ask what she thought of it. So Nita had told her. Actually, she had told Joanne wha she thought of *her*. The bike was all right. In fact, it had been almost exactly the one that Nita had wanted so much for her last birthday – the birthday when she got nothing but clothes.
Life can be really rotten sometimes, Nita thought. She wasn’t really so irritated about that at the moment, however. Running away from a beating was taking up most of her attention.
“Callahan,” came a yell from behind her. “I’m gonna pound you up and mail you home in bottles!”
I wonder how many bottles it’ll take, Nita thought without much humor. She couldn’t afford to laugh. With their bikes, they’d catch up to her pretty quickly. And then…
That comes out as being like: Dan Brown. (I wonder what Diane would think of that comparison?)
Okay, so here’s my attempt to try to change the words to make this into a different scene:
“All of the trouble,” Collin said as he flew quickly up Duke’s Corridor, “is that I won’t leave a take alone.”
He had been climbing for ninety seconds now, watching pings, threading carefully between yachts, and Juno was pushing her all. Two clicks below him Collin could see Zeus and Poseidon and the entirety of the fleet lifting up in formation, seeking to challenge his hard-won, tenuous temporary freedom. But Morgan had walked around the corner with that hard stare, all medals and crisp fabric and stunner/blaster and peaked cap and decorated sash, and demand what he was doing there. So Collin had told him. Really, Collin had told Morgan what he wanted to hear. Morgan had been suspicious. Actually, he had been nearly perfectly a match for Collin and deployed the guards around the perimeter – the perimeter that he nearly hadn’t broken through.
“Crime can get very tricky these days,” Collin mused. He wasn’t exactly so angry about this at the time, though. Flying away from the navy was eating up most of his fuel.
“Rayman,” sounded the hail from his radio. “We’re going to chase you down and blast you into molecules!”
“I know how many molecules we’ll make,” Collin thought without much interest. He couldn’t spare time to calculate. With those engines, they’d overhaul Juno in minutes. And so…
You may notice that I was bending the ‘always the same part of speech’ rule by the end – because I had the story that I wanted to tell, and was willing to bend the rules to get to it. And, drumroll please, IWL says that this passage could have been written by:
Dan Brown again.
Maybe there’s more to this than I thought. Hmm…
If any of my readers try this exercise, or play around with the IWL statistical writing tool, I’d love to hear about it!