An Algorithm For Success: Incorporate These Tips Into Your Writing Style Now!

When writing for a specific publication, authors must keep in mind the style that will work best. For an entertainment website, brief lists with bold headlines and colorful photos are a popular way to attract and maintain reader attention. Many books and studies dissect various writing styles, in an attempt to find out which is the most successful in any given situation.

For those who are interested in writing the next New York Times bestseller, I have good news! This article over at The Telegraph describes a truly fascinating attempt by computer scientists to develop an algorithm predicting the success of book sales. The scientists used books that have done well historically, as well as books that are low-ranking on Amazon, and analyzed their content to determine what makes a successful book.

It may come as no surprise to creative writing and literature students that less successful stories relied heavily on verbs and adverbs. The old adage of “show, don’t tell” seems to work like a charm, at least according to this little experiment. The project predicted the success or failure of each book with an 84% accuracy rate. You can check it out in its entirety here.

The Intricate Stylings of F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was at one point regarded as “The Great American Novel.” On the surface, it is a story of love, longing, and gross materialism. By reading deeper into the story, Gatsby becomes a social commentary on the nation’s obsession with appearing successful, while its characters fall apart behind their masks. Fitzgerald’s style is perfect for this type of novel. Quiklit published a fascinating post on the life and works of Fitzgerald. On his writing style, they write:

“Fitzgerald’s writing style was inspired in large part by Joseph Conrad and fellow American authors like Sherwood Anderson. While Conrad’s style is extremely dense, a series of puzzles wrapped in enigmas, it is includes a sense of mystery and the exotic. Fitzgerald’s prose is lighter than Conrad’s, but it nevertheless contains this layering. It is this type of subtext that allows his novels to contain a “sense” of doom and tragedy while also appearing blissfully romantic.”

Anyone who has read The Great Gatsby can attest to the truth of that statement. Fitzgerald’s gilded words beckon readers into the glamorous worlds he has created. His work has become practically synonymous with the “Roaring 20s,” and his stories serve as both a warning and a siren song to anyone longing for more. His style has held up through the years and remains popular even today.

Check out the blog post in its entirety here:

The Importance of Emulation

Ask any reader, and they should be able to name their favorite authors off the top of their head. What is it about these authors and their works that makes them so memorable? Entire college courses are dedicated to addressing that question and helping young writers to create their own memorable work. In many cases, the answer is simply, style. As a beginning writer, it is perfectly acceptable to emulate the style of a favorite writer. It is a great way to stretch the limits of your own writing and find out what does and does not work for you.

NowNovel gives an excellent example of how writers can attempt to mimic the writing style of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is an author who has stood the test of time, with many of his works now studied in high school English courses. While I am personally not a fan of Hemingway’s bare-bones writing style, I would not be opposed to giving some of his tactics a try – we learn through mimicking others. You never know what that fresh new style could bring out in your own writing style!

Should You Modify Your Writing Style?

Style is something that is easier discussed than mastered. Many famous authors have their own personal writing style, a specific flavor that makes the words jump off the page. As college students, writing assignments are meant to help prune away the excess and begin to shape the student’s specific writing style. Becoming comfortable with one’s own writing style is difficult enough…but what happens when the young writer has no say in their topic? This is something that can plague freelancers, who often find themselves writing for a specific audience. Why bother to identify a writing style at all, if it only gets tossed aside?

The answer? Having a specific style helps to set the written work apart. Think of J.K. Rowling, who so frequently uses the same expressions and reactions over and over again. Her work is highly recognizable, something which all writers should aspire to mimic. Here are a few tips on writing for a specific audience while still staying true to a given writing style.

John Green Speaks Out Against Self-Publication

In an expletive-filled rant, John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, spoke out against self-publication. According to the Association of American Booksellers, Green said, “I am sometimes held up as an example of someone who is changing the publishing paradigm or whatever because I have a lot of Tumblr followers and YouTube subscribers and I can speak directly to my audience and I don’t need the value-sucking middleman of bookstores and publishers, and in the future everyone is going to be like me, and no one will stand between author and reader except possibly an e-commerce site that takes just a tiny little percentage of each transaction. Yeah, that’s bullshit.”

He goes on to say that he would not have any books to his name (he currently has six) were it not for his editor, his publisher, and the dedicated teams who help his stories to reach their maximum potential. He calls self-publication “an insidious lie.”

Yikes. I wouldn’t consider self-publication an insidious lie. I would prefer traditional publication, actually, to take care of the business aspects and allow me to focus on my writing. John Green has been highly successful so far (I actually rather liked The Fault in Our Stars), but it looks like he may need to add “publicist” to his list of business necessities. I guess no one told him that a publishing house can’t always sweep his asshole remarks under the rug.

J.K. Rowling: The Sensation That Almost Wasn’t

You’ve all heard her name. If you’re anything like me, you begged your parents to buy you wizard robes and take you to midnight book release parties, so that you could be one of the first people to know what was next for Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling is a sensation. Her books have been translated into 65 languages, at one point making her one of the richest people in Great Britain.

For J.K. Rowling, it was luck that got her book published. Luck, and a lot of determination. The manuscript for the first Harry Potter book was completed in 1995. Rowling writes of the experience, “The first manuscript I had to do on a typewriter and then had to re-type the entire chapter if I changed a paragraph. Then I had to re-type the whole book all over again because it wasn’t double spaced.” Rowling sent her story to several publishers, and accumulated rejection letters for an entire year before Bloomsbury Publishing finally expressed an interest in her work, although her editor warned her not to quit her day job.

J.K. Rowling is a true inspiration to many, and you can read her full thoughts on the publishing experience in this interview with Urbanette:

Dr. Salazar: The Inspiration for Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs is one of my all-time favorite films. The story, the characters, the utter horror, Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s eerily composed creepiness. The movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1992, spawning hundred of true-crime headlines such as “Real Life Hannibal Lecter Kills Again.” But who was the man who inspired the sophisticated, genteel cannibal?

In the 25th Anniversary re-release of the best-selling book behind the movie, author Thomas Harris tells of a man, identified only as Dr. Salazar, whose creepy mannerisms and obsession with the human mind inspired the character of Hannibal Lecter. I won’t spoil it for you, but you can read more about this terrifying figure here:

Harris himself discovered the doctor while at a prison to interview one of the inmates. For those who have seen the movie or read the book, it really is fascinating to see where reality blends into fantasy.

The Book Thief: The Man Behind the Story

A couple of years ago, I caved and bought a copy of The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. The story centers around a young girl named Liesl, and her life in Germany at the height of Hitler’s reign of terror. The story takes us through the girl’s adolescence and the effect the war has on her relationships, but most uniquely, the story is narrated by Death himself.

It’s an interesting, devastating take on one of the darkest times in world history, and I found myself researching the author to find out what compelled him to write something like this. In this interview with The Guardian, author Marcus Zusak offers a look at his own childhood and the things that inspired his work.

Here is a brief sampling of the Q&A session, which you can check out in its entirety by clicking this link:

When you were growing up did you have books in your home?
I think we had just about every Doctor Seuss book available in Australia. My parents couldn’t speak English when they came here, so it was important to them that their children at least had the chance to be good communicators, as well as good readers and writers of English. A lot of my childhood memories seem to have books in the picture.

What made you want to write when you were starting out?
I wanted to be a writer when I was 16 and read the right books for me. It was that feeling of turning pages and not even realising it – I was so immersed in the world of each book. That was when I looked up from the pages and thought, “That’s what I want to do with my life.” I decided that I was going to be a writer and that nothing was going to stop me.

What advice would you give to new writers?
Don’t be afraid to fail. I fail every day. I failed thousands of times writing The Book Thief, and that book now means everything to me. Of course, I have many doubts and fears about that book, too, but some of what I feel are the best ideas in it came to me when I was working away for apparently no result. Failure has been my best friend as a writer. It tests you, to see if you have what it takes to see it through.

Stephen King “On Writing”

I recently read Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing” in one of my Creative Writing courses. I love to write, but I think anyone who has really tried to write can understand that it is often a painful, self-destructive process. A 1,000 word assignment often leaves me stranded in front of my computer for hours, deleting entire passages and starting from scratch, until the final piece is as good as I can make it.

King’s memoir includes some ordinary advice (shut the door, get it all down on paper, etc.), but more often, his words were somewhat of a revelation. The advice that really stretched my brain was to realize that I am not in control. King, as well as several other writers, credit the subconscious for dreaming up all those brilliant ideas. We are not the writers, we are simply the vessels for the thoughts of the subconscious.

Confused yet? This is something I am struggling to understand for myself. I like to be in control, and the thought of relinquishing control to someone who is me…but isn’t at the same time…is so far out of my normal line of thought. Still, the idea is growing on me. We have to get out of our rational minds to really let the creativity start flowing, and that is something I am going to try in my future writing.

For the “Cliff’s Notes” on King’s memoir, and to see a list of his top writing tips, check out this article, posted on Open Culture. Many of the sub-headings are taken directly from his memoir, and are excellent tips for writers of all ages and experiences.

Writing Lessons From Cheryl Strayed’s Wild

I chose to profile memoirist Cheryl Strayed for our recent report, and along the way I found this list of “19 Life Changing Quotes” from her most recent success, Wild. While these quotes were not intended to be about the writing process, I feel that many of them are perfect motivational material. Writing, when done right, is a difficult process, with plenty of second guessing and self-hatred involved. Nonfiction writing can be even more difficult, as writers are forced to live out their experience once more, and find the significance in their pain. It is a solitary journey that we choose to embark on, much like the one Cheryl took when she hiked 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995.

Here are some of my favorites from this list:

1.  I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.

2. There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another.

3. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.

This last quote I feel really captures the experience of writing memoir and other nonfiction forms. Cheryl’s journey on the trail was a detox of its own, and writing her experiences was another of itself:

It seemed to me the way it must feel to people who cut themselves on purpose. Not pretty, but clean. Not good, but void of regret. I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure me of myself.

You can check the rest of the list out here:

Let me know what your favorite quotes are!