Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to Write Like Austen? (Maybe)

by Linore Rose Burkard

          Looking through some old newsletters from JASNA (The Jane Austen Society of North America), I came across something fun: An interesting link shared by author Carrie Bebris, a fellow regency novelist. She says she keeps her writing style in the vein of Austen's by using http://www.writelikeausten.com

If you type in a word, it will tell you if it appears in any of Austen's works--and how many times, too. It will also give you synonyms that Jane used--and point out a few she did NOT. There's more on the site that any respectable Janeite will enjoy, so I encourage you to take a look. But can it really help you write like Austen?

Just for fun, I entered a few words I used in my first regency, BEFORE THE SEASON ENDS.

"Prinny"--a caricature, by Gillray

I discovered that Jane never referred to the Prince Regent as "Prinny." (Though Mr. Mornay, the hero of BTSE, as well as the prince's inner circle of fashionable friends, did. Probably not to his face.)  

Neither did Jane once refer to the elite fashionable district of London (that regency writers today are so fond of), "Mayfair," by name. 

Interestingly, she used the word "Fortune" (ie., one's wealth) 222 times. (Hmmm.)
"Money-- 127
"Estate"--77 times.
"Jointure"--only 3 times (A jointure usually referred to a widow's income, sort of an annuity.)
"Wealth"--33 times.

Going over that above list is like reviewing many of Austen's themes in brief, although her true themes cannot be reduced to single words. 

 For fun, I entered a few more words we all associate with Jane Austen, such as,

"Pride"--138 times
"Sense"--238--quite a lot 
"prodigiously"--5 (only! huh. And "prodigious"--only 9 times.)

Out of curiosity, I also tried the site's "Austen Writer," in which you can insert a paragraph of text and see how it compares to, in their words, "Austenicity." (Love that word! Austenicity.
So here's how the opening paragraph of my novel, above, made out.
I entered the following:

Something would have to be done about Ariana.
All winter Miss Ariana Forsythe, aged nineteen, had been going about the house sighing.  "Mr. Hathaway is my lot in life!"  She spoke as if the prospect of that life was a great burden to bear, but one to which she had properly reconciled herself. When her declarations met with exasperation or reproach from her family--for no one else was convinced that Mr. Hathaway, the rector, was her lot--she usually responded in a perplexed manner. Hadn't they understood that her calling was to wed a man of the cloth? Was there another man of God, other than their rector, available to her? No. It only stood to reason, therefore, that Mr. Hathaway was her lot in life.Their cold reception to the thought of the marriage was unfathomable.

How did it do? Except for the proper nouns, ONLY the following words from this excerpt were never used by Austen

exasperation, responded, hadn't, wed, available. 

I could take that to mean the writing has significant "Austenicity," right? But wait, maybe not. 

To compare, I took a paragraph from my contemporary novel, FALLING IN, and entered it into the site. 

Here's what I entered:

      ...Pat felt in his pocket, and that's when he pulled out a small felt-covered box, the kind that held rings. He was grinning.
        Oh, my gosh! He's going to propose! Sharona was shocked. Not happily shocked. It was an unwelcome idea, that of getting married. They'd only been dating for five months!  Sharona's heart constricted. Pat was cupping the box reverently in one hand, waiting for her to take it. She reached for it woodenly, her mind a jumble of thoughts.  It was true Pat had given warnings, saying things like, "Junior partners don't become senior partners in my firm without a wife; preferably a couple kids, too." Pat's superiors were mostly old-school, white-haired men, and they liked things traditional. But Pat had always followed such statements with a laugh, so Sharona never took his words as a hint of something coming. She hadn't dreamed he'd been serious.
In this case, the app again flagged personal pronouns, but also every single compound word and contraction; as well as "constricted," "cupping," "reverently," "woodenly," "preferably," and "dreamed." Jane Austen did not, apparently, use many adverbs or modifiers. (Perhaps we can learn something here!) Most words, however, were not flagged.  

This tells me two things:
1. You cannot use this little tool to write like Austen, although it will tell you if a word was never used by her.
2.  Jane used quite a few words in her writing that we still use today. And that's it! 

Still, it was a fun exercise. 
If I could find an app to do the same for writing like Dickens, now, wouldn't that be fun?

Do you read Jane Austen? Or regencies? What is a favorite word of yours from the period?

Linore Rose Burkard  is best known for her Inspirational Regency Romance Series, which whisks readers back in time to early 19th century England. Authenticity and heart-warming adventure are par for the course in her books. Fans of romance in the tradition of Austen and Heyer (such as Pride & Prejudice, Cotillion, and even My Fair Lady), enjoy meeting Linore's feisty heroines and dashing heros.
All excerpts above, copyright 2015 Linore Rose Burkard 




  1. Alas, I'm not a huge Jane Austin fan. I heard that gasp. I love historicals set in the west with cowboys, ranchers, mail-order brides, etc. That's an interesting tool you found for making your stories more "Austen-thenic". I would love one of those tools for westerns. Sometimes it's hard to find a word to describe something that doesn't sounds too modern.

  2. I understand, Vickie. (Well, sort of.) I know other people who don't like Austen, but it's hard for me to imagine! lol. It would be fun to have an app for westerns, you're right. (There probably is one.) Ask Debbie Lynne Costello--she's like you, a big western fan. Thanks for stopping by!