Being Kurt Vonnegut
Of all the writers this bibliophile has read and continues to discover, I rank Kurt Vonnegut in the upper echelon of literary geniuses. No one wrote caustic satire quite like him. While I don’t emulate him in my own work, or any author for that matter, a favorable comparison would be much welcomed, to say the least. Alas, if Dmitry Chestnykh is the arbiter of writing analysis, the probability of that happening is slim to none.
Mr. Chestnykh is a Russian computer programmer who created the site I Write Like. I don’t know if it is viable for academic study, or was created for just giggles. Perhaps when some established authors were tested and came up with others than themselves, the latter seemed to be the likely purpose. As an example, Moby Dick was more reminiscent of Stephen King than of, well, Herman Melville. I wonder if Mr. Melville looked more like King’s brother than . . . regardless, the algorithm could use some tweaking.
Here is the link, in case you want to participate in the same frustrating exercise I did—twenty-one times, to be precise. I just couldn’t resist the compulsion.
I took excerpts of my blog postings, short stories, and even a couple of e-mails. I was on a quest to identify my wordsmith doppelgänger and hoped for some affirmation of my writing skills, to boot. Yes, I was shooting for at least one Kurt Vonnegut comparison. Did Dmitry throw me that bone? Of course not. Hell, I would have been happy with Kilgore Trout, even. Here is a list of what I did get and how many times, ranked from extremely flattering to suicide-inducing:
- Vladimir Nabokov—1
- Stephen King—2
- David Foster Wallace—5
- H.P. Lovecraft—3
- Isaac Asimov—1
- Arthur Clark—1
- Ian Fleming—1
- Chuck Palahniuk—1
- Cory Doctorow—2
- Dan Brown—4
Take a guess when I considered going the route of one of those authors. What, too soon? Seriously though, how can I write like one of the most successful hacks in recent memory, but have yet to crack the “Code” of making even one red cent from my writings? ‘Tain’t fair! By the way, who the Hell is Cory Doctorow? (Admittedly, as a sci-fi fan, I should have known who he was.) I felt like I stumbled into the Malkovichian portal to my own mind, to find all the authors above at a Halloween party where I was the only costume left on the rack for them to buy. It was not a pretty visual, let me tell you. In the words of one of my alleged brothers-in-words, “oh, the unspeakable horror!”
At least I don’t write like Stephenie Meyer, with her damned eye-rolling, mumbling emo-pires (that’s another post entirely!). There’s that small blessing. To ensure that she was in the database or whatever the blazes is in that program, I put in an excerpt of her first book, Twilight, and there she was. Whew, I won’t fold up my laptop just yet.
As I mentioned earlier, I got no Vonnegut hits, even though I have read more works from him than any other author. You’d think he would rub off, even a little. Just to make sure he was on the site’s radar, I put in a sample text from his famous Slaughterhouse-Five.
“The Americans across the way told the guards again about the dead man on their car. The guards got a stretcher out of their own cozy car, opened the dead man’s car and went inside. The dead man’s car wasn’t crowded at all. There were just six live colonels in there—one dead one.
The Germans carried the corpse out. The corpse was Wild Bob. So it goes.”
There he was. I made it easy for myself and substituted key words and phrases in it to change the spirit while preserving the grammatical structure:
“The Canadians across the way told the penguins again about the dead seal on their igloo. The penguins got a glacier out of their own comfortable igloo, opened the dead seal’s igloo and went inside. The dead seal’s igloo wasn’t crowded at all. There were just six live bears in there—one dead one.
The Americans carried the corpse out. The corpse was Wild Bob. So it snows.”
David Foster Wallace! What the. . . ? This should have been a slam-dunk. If I can’t write like Kurt Vonnegut, at least he should be able to write like himself! Before I went all Dwayne Hoover from Breakfast of Champions on my computer, I had to apply a healthy dose of perspective along with the grain of salt. Really, how intuitive are these programs, or anything that claims to sum up one’s personality based on a few bytes of information? According to one of the plethora of Facebook surveys I was suckered into taking, my aura was orange. Orange? Puh! Mine is clearly purple. I dismiss that on principle. In this case, I separate the wheat from the chaff and paraphrase Bruce Lee: I extract what strokes my ego and discard what bitch-slaps it.
In conclusion, I am as masterful a writer as Vladimir Nabokov was. Woot woot!
Did I mention I haven’t read anything from Wallace, yet? He is on my list, but blast it, he is a laborious read. Apparently, I’m actually so brilliant, even I find it hard to understand myself.
Posted on August 9, 2011, in Popular and tagged Being John Malkovich, Breakfast of Champions, David Foster Wallace, Dwayne Hoover, I write like, Kilgore Trout, Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhoues-Five, Vladimir Nabakov. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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