Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Monkeys, Typewriters And The Right Algorithm Will Get You A Bestseller

You just knew it was a matter of time until scientists would uncover the mathematics behind bestselling novels. And of course you could see some computer program coming as a result, a bit of software or perhaps an app for your iPad that would guarantee you the success you crave.

And of course you figure that the major publishing houses are going to put manuscripts through that digital slice and dice before making an offer to the literary agent trying to sell the thing. In time, then, agents will not read manuscripts at all before signing clients, but will use the algorithmic method to find the saleable and eliminate the doubt brought on by the artistic.

The modern writer's room
Who will need writers, when all the publishers will require is a room full of monkeys banging away on keyboards? Use the computer to sort through the drivel and give the winning primate a banana for the effort. The profit margin is enormous.

The core of the algorithm involves analyzing words and word combination, in essence putting math behind the old adage of "show, don't tell". Popular novels use showing words, the scientists have discovered, lots of nouns and adjectives, but fewer action verbs.

Authors need an interesting story as well, but you'd think that was common sense. Just as no one cares to view a powerpoint presentation of your sun holiday to the south of France, with photos of every meal you ate, so too do readers want something not boring to read. If you're intrigued by the details of whaling in the Nineteenth Century, for example, you'd be fascinated by Moby Dick. If you're in secondary school and forced to read it, you'd be wishing for a short case of total blindness to get out of the deadly dull assignment.

It's coming. The day of the formula bestseller is at hand, and the art of creative writing will have to give way. Or slide off sideways, to the niche publishers who are more interested in the beauty of the written word than the business of publishing.

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