This is the sixth post in a series titled The Way I Write. I’ve been looking at my writing style over the last twenty years largely used the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores to get an idea of what my work looks like in an admittedly nuts-and-bolts fashion. Last time, I focused on long-form fiction. This go-around, I want to look at my published short stories and flash fiction, as well as compare it to the media tie-in work I’ve done for Privateer Press.
So, a few definitions. A flash fiction piece is anything under 1,000 words. For me, that generally means between 800 and 999 words. A short story is, for most markets, anything 2,000 words and up. I rarely go below 3,000 words, and most of my shorts fall between 3,000 and 5,000 words. The sampling of media tie-in fiction I’m using, about twenty stories, ranges from 1,500 to 10,000 words and just about everything in between.
Before we dive into to this post, here are the other posts in this series.
Let’s start with flash fiction. These numbers are derived from published pieces, over fifty of them, so we’ve got a good sampling to work from. This is an average of all the flash pieces.
Yeah, that looks about right. My work is straight forward, uncluttered, and to the point. I use a lot of dialogue, and the types of characters I tend to write aren’t exactly eloquent or wordy. Let’s look at outliers, though.
“News From Home” – This story has the highest grade level (7.8) and the lowest reading ease (65.2) of any of my flash fiction. Why is that? Well, these posts have taught me that genre can have a big impact on your readability scores. In this case, the story is science fiction, which tends to deliver denser readability scores. Some of this is due to word length. Science fiction includes, you know, science words. In addition, I find myself getting a little more verbose when I stray into sci-fi.
“Where They Belong” – This horror story sits on the opposite end of the spectrum from “News From Home”. It features the lowest grade level (2.8) and the highest readability score (93.8). This is a case where the readability scores can help you nail down a character’s voice. This story is told from the POV of a six-year-old boy, so the language is simplistic, which is reflected in the readability scores.
Now on to short stories. I’ve published fewer of these than flash fiction, but still enough to give us a good overview and a reliable average score.
Nope, not a copy/paste error. My short story stats are nearly identical to my flash fiction stats. That says my style doesn’t change with length, and I think that’s a good thing. Like with flash fiction, let’s look at the outliers.
“Caroline” – This is a straight-up horror story and boasts a grade level of 5.4 and a reading ease of 76.5. That’s not exactly James Joyce, but it’s on the higher end for me. The reason, oddly, for this is lack of dialogue. This story is told from a third-person limited POV and is fairly introspective. It also features elements of sci-fi, which might be affecting the scores too.
“The Scars You Keep” – This story is almost one-hundred percent dialogue, which is reflected in the readability scores. It sits at a grade level of 3.1 and a reading ease of 88.5. That’s some simple prose, but it works, I think, because of the isolated nature of the story and the mater-of-fact way in which the two characters speak.
Ready to get weird? Let’s take a look at the readability scores of the media tie-in stories I write for Privateer Press. These mostly fall into steam-punk-esque fantasy and space opera sci-fi. Here are those average numbers.
Quite a difference, huh? Reading ease is a over ten points lower than my flash fiction and short stories and the grade level is almost two points higher. That’s a huge difference. Why is that? Well, genre is one part of it. As I’ve said, fantasy and sci-fi tend to feature slightly denser prose on average. Additionally, since this work is based on tabletop gaming, the stories include game language that can be, well, wordy. I mean, you don’t generally see words like mortitheurigical and necromechanikal on the regular. Long, multisyllabic words affect readability scores. Finally, there’s house style and what readers of media tie-in expect of their fiction. I tend to stray a bit from my own style to conform to theirs, which is wordier. Not in a bad way, just in a different way.
I gotta say, it was interesting to put all these numbers together and see the results. The flash fiction and short stories didn’t surprise me, but I did raise an eyebrow when I saw the media tie-in scores. Just goes to show how malleable a thing like style is and that you can indeed change it when you need to. 🙂
Questions or comments about these numbers? Ask away in the comments.