0

I Write Like erupts online, leaves authors scratching heads

NEW YORK -- For anyone who has ever thought Charles Dickens was lurking inside his or her prose, a new website claims it can find your inner author.

The recently launched I Write Like has one simple gimmick: You paste a few paragraphs that exemplify your writing, then click ''analyze'' and -- poof! -- you get a badge telling you that you write like Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway or Chuck Palahniuk.

The site's traffic has soared in recent days and its arrival has lit up the blogosphere. Gawker tried a transcript from one of the leaked Mel Gibson phone calls. The suggested author: Margaret Atwood.

The New Yorker found that an invitation to a birthday party was James Joycean. Many others were aghast to discover they wrote similarly to ''The Da Vinci Code'' scribe Dan Brown.

The New York Times tried putting in actual novels, such as ''Moby-Dick.'' Herman Melville, it turns out, writes less like himself than King, according to I Write Like.

Atwood, herself, tried the site only to discover she also apparently writes like King. ''Who knew?'' she tweeted.

Obviously, I Write Like isn't an exact science. But simply the idea of an algorithm that can reveal traces of influence in writing has proven wildly popular.

Though the site might seem the idle dalliance of an English professor on summer break, it was created by Dmitry Chestnykh, a 27-year-old Russian software programmer currently living in Montenegro. Though he speaks English reasonably well, it's his second language.

''I wanted it to be an educational thing and also to help people write better,'' he said.

Chestnykh modeled the site on software for e-mail spam filters. This means that the site's text analysis is largely keyword based. Even if you write in short, declarative, Hemingwayesque sentences, its your word choice that may determine your comparison.

Most writers will tell you, though, that the most telling signs of influence come from punctuation, rhythm and structure.