May 18, 2012

Book reviewer's weapon: the Kindle search.

Chez Amazon, a customer review — voted overwhelmingly "helpful" — complains about bad writing in the form of repetition and proves it via search tool. (The book is the huge lady-porn bestseller "Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One.")
According to my Kindle search function, characters roll their eyes 41 times, Ana bites her lip 35 times, Christian's lips "quirk up" 16 times, Christian "cocks his head to one side" 17 times, characters "purse" their lips 15 times, and characters raise their eyebrows a whopping 50 times. Add to that 80 references to Ana's anthropomorphic "subconscious" (which also rolls its eyes and purses its lips, by the way), 58 references to Ana's "inner goddess," and 92 repetitions of Ana saying some form of "oh crap" (which, depending on the severity of the circumstances, can be intensified to "holy crap," "double crap," or the ultimate "triple crap")....

*UPDATE*: Thanks to the many other perturbed readers who have shared their own choices of the most annoyingly overused phrases in this masterpiece. Following up on their suggestions with my ever-useful Kindle search function, I have discovered that Ana says "Jeez" 81 times and "oh my" 72 times. She "blushes" or "flushes" 125 times, including 13 that are "scarlet," 6 that are "crimson," and one that is "stars and stripes red." (I can't even imagine.) Ana "peeks up" at Christian 13 times, and there are 9 references to Christian's "hooded eyes" and 7 to his "long index finger." Christian's "mouth presses into a hard line" 10 times. Characters "murmur" 199 times and "whisper" 195 times (doesn't anyone just talk?), "clamber" on/in/out of things 21 times, and "smirk" 34 times. Finally, in a remarkable bit of symmetry, our hero and heroine exchange 124 "grins" and 124 "frowns"... which, by the way, seems an awful lot of frowning for a woman who experiences "intense," "body-shattering," "delicious," "violent," "all-consuming," "turbulent," "agonizing" and "exhausting" orgasms on just about every page.
I'm exhausted just reading about it. I found the Kindle search tool very useful in examining Obama's "Dreams From My Father" — here and here — in something of a different way, but, thinking about new searches that might prove fruitful, I got distracted by some searches that involved similar "creative writing" tics describing characters. For example, I noticed that people "nodded" 51 times — which is disconcertingly suggestive to those of us — I used to not be one — who nod off while reading.

22 comments:

Scott M said...

It is an amazing time to be an author, or even an earnest wannabe, especially with the DOJ smackdown recently and everything, literally everything, that's going on in the realm of trad- vs e- publishing.

But this startling new era in literary offerings cuts both ways. While the technology now exists in a sufficiently diffuse manner that allows an author to cut all ties with New York/London/etc, that same technology creates both sea of barely readable crap along with the means for the outstanding to be cut to ribbons in short order.

"May you live in interesting times" was once meant as a curse.

phx said...
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Tim said...

Word searching literature might be an interesting field.

So, if the Inuit reportedly have many words for snow, might we similarly presume feminists have no word for orgasm?

Shanna said...

That review is awesome!

My cousin has been trying to get me to read those books. I finally told her to send one to me so I could check it out, but I won't be able to read it without looking for random britishisms and pursed lips now.

MadisonMan said...

I was about to write something, but then a terrifying thought hit me:

What if I've said that before?

Thank Goodness it's not althouse.amazon.com

Alex said...

Just compare that drivel to a David Mamet screenplay.

Alex said...

From Glengarry Glen Ross:

...all train compartments smell
vaguely of shit. It gets so you
don't mind it. That's the worst
thing that I can confess. You know
how long it took me to get there?
A long time. When you die you're
going to regret the things you
don't do. You think you're queer...?
I'm going to tell you something:
we're all queer. You think that
you're a thief? So what? You get
befuddled by a middle-class
morality...? Get shut of it. Shut
it out. You cheated on your
wife...? You did it, live with it.
(pause)
You fuck little girls, so be it.
There's an absolute morality? May
be. And then what? If you think
there is, then be that thing. Bad
people go to hell? I don't think
so. If you think that, act that
way. A hell exists on earth? Yes.
I won't live in it. That's me.
You ever take a dump made you feel
you'd just slept for twelve hours...?


Pretty awesome huh?

Chip Ahoy said...

This is the hilariousest thing ever. Yesterday I read a comment thread, it took three comments for a S.Fris. guy to drive his points. He got pushback. Finally he used the phrases 'on the nose dialogue' and 'dialogue tag' to describe how bad a SciFi writer's dialogue is. Everybody else said he was great, so it was one against everybody. The Kindle would have been an excellent way to make the case.

george said...

I was going to post something but I think I nodded off.

Scott M said...

to describe how bad a SciFi writer's dialogue is.

Hey....

Scott said...

...I won't be able to read it without looking for random britishisms and pursed lips now.


Deconstruction can turn even the most beautiful, moving, thought-provoking texts into banal cultural affects. I think that's why communists love playing this game -- it sucks the power out of the popular and turns it into motives and motifs that are easily dismissable.

Salamandyr said...

Chip,

Was that the thread about John Scalzi's "Uncle Tim" post over on Pajama's Media? I definitely thought the poster had a point. If you read one of Scalzi's books you'll think he's excellent. Two and you start to wonder if he can handle more than one authorial voice, three and you realize he's entirely too impressed by his own, notional, cleverness.

Dr Weevil said...

In Small World (1984), one of David Lodge's characters tells how stylistic analysis of his works destroyed his career. I quoted it at length in this post from 2003.

Eugene said...

A neat program called Textanz will analyze a Word document and do a frequency analysis on all the words and phrases used. The problem is that many "utility" words are transparent to the reader until pointed out, the most obvious in fiction being "said." Attempting to avoid the redundancy of "said" is a common rookie writing mistake.

Geoff Matthews said...

I found the repeated phrase "sacred feminine" in The Da Vinci Code to be really annoying.
But then I'm a misogynist.

Patrick said...

I wonder if the Kindle helped discover Elizabeth Warren's plagiarism.

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/300502/plagiarism-elizabeth-warrens-2006-book-katrina-trinko

Jose_K said...

"sacred feminine takes us the high

phx said...
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The Crack Emcee said...

58 references to Ana's "inner goddess,..."

That's all? Other than in something like a Tom Wolfe novel, do men ever think/talk/act like this?

Straight men, I mean,...

Simon said...

I had thirty hours of flying to get through so I read Paul Chafe's "Destiny's Forge," and I didn't need the Kindle's search function to tell me that Kzinti characters said "hrrr" and turned a paw over contemplatively every dozen pages or so. But so what? Tom Clancy said that the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense; similarly, if people in fiction talk the way that real people talk, which is full of repetition and redundant mannerisms, the writer gets faulted! Why is it bad that characters roll their eyes forty times in two hours? I'm sure I'd roll me eyes forty times in two hours if I went to see Sacha Cohen's latest movie.

Ken Green said...

You need to do a search with the word "hips," because I would bet that she describes the way Christian's pants hang on his hips at least 50 times.

Ken Green said...

Nevermind, she mentions how pants hang off Christian's hips 8 times in the first book. I don't have the stomach to check the others.

A bit of Captcha irony: the captcha words for this are staken, and ndocile. Given that the original 50 shades was based on Twilight fanfic, these are highly appropriate.