Posted on March 30, 2023 by Aeryn Rudel
I’ve done a pretty exhaustive series of posts on my writing style and how it developed, but as I was working on a freelance piece recently, it occurred to me that I have three different styles I use on a regular basis. I thought it might be fun to take a look at those styles, give you some examples, and then see what kind of readability scores each one produces.
I’ll be using the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores to get a statistical idea of how the styles differ. As a refresher, Flesch-Kincaid gives the text a grade-level equivalent and then a reading ease score from one to one hundred (higher is easier).
When I write fiction derived from my own IP, i.e., not media tie-in, my style tends to be pretty spare. I’m not flowery, I use a lot of dialogue, and I’m a straight-to-the-point writer. Here’s an example from a recently published work.
From Effectively Wild published by Grinning Skull Press.
They grabbed a booth near the back of the restaurant, ordered a pitcher of beer, then attempted small talk for a bit. Their former intimacy and the hard line recently drawn in the relationship sand made things increasingly awkward. Martin gave up before he finished his first beer and launched into why he’d asked Steph to meet him in the first place.
“I’ve done two bullpen sessions with Dinescu,” Martin said.
Steph sipped her beer and peered over the glass at him. “Tell me what happened.”
“Well, you’ve seen the kid,” he said. “He makes Yang look like fucking Hercules. Not much physique or anything I’d call athletic. He barely registered on the radar gun in our first side session. I’m talking mid-seventies.”
“Right,” she said. “And the second one?” That question came across loaded. He had a feeling she knew exactly what that second bullpen had been like.
“Today, the kid comes in, looked rested, and I shit you not, he looked bigger,” Martin said.
“Threw harder too, right?”
“Ten miles per hour harder,” Martin said. “Who does that?”
“Nobody I know,” she said and sighed. “Okay, I guess you showed me yours.”
This passage is pretty typical of my work. Spare descriptions and conversational dialogue. According to Flesch-Kincaid, the numbers for this passage are a 4.8 grade level and 80.3 reading ease score. That’s pretty much right in line with most of what I’ve published. It can change a bit on genre. The above is horror and my science fiction tends to score higher on grade level and lower on reading ease, but not by a ton.
When I wrote media tie-in fiction for Privateer Press, my style changes a bit. Some of this is due to the house style of the publisher and some it is due to the nature of the material itself. The primary setting of Privateer Press is the Iron Kingdoms, a steampunk-esque fantasy setting. That’s a lot different than a washed-up catcher drinking beer in a bar in Tacoma. 😊 Let’s have a look at some of my recent Iron Kingdoms fiction.
From Dark Rising published by Privateer Press
“Close combat formation!” Ilari shouted. The Winter Korps drew short-hafted axes and curved blades. Ilari left his own sword sheathed at his hip and continued to pick off enemies with his magelock. They’d killed dozens, but it hadn’t made a dent in the swarming enemy.
The Orgoth fell upon them in a screaming horde of blades. Up close, their savagery was even more apparent. Their bodies were covered in bizarre tattoos and their armor, though impressively constructed, gave them a hellish, inhuman appearance. Ilari sent his warjacks forward, and the sweep of Hammer’s axe cut down two Orgoth. Nail’s flamethrower engulfed three more. Feral joy at dealing death surged through their connection with Ilari. No practice warjack had ever projected more than reluctant compliance.
The battle quickly became chaos. Ilari found himself face-to-face with a hulking Orgoth warrior wielding a shield and a massive axe that glowed with blue fire. He ducked the woman’s first swipe, knelt, and fired his rifle with one hand, bracing its butt against the ground. The armor-piercing rune shot hit the Orgoth in the chest, blasted through her armor, and sent her stumbling backward. Ilari surged to his feet and put another bullet in her skull.
Although I don’t think this looks like someone wrote it, there’s a pretty sharp difference between this and the excerpt from Effectively Wild. There’s more action in my Iron Kingdoms work, less dialogue, and more descriptions. Much of this is simply because that’s what the fiction and the genre requires. That doesn’t make this better or worse than what I write on my own, just different.
Speaking of different, let’s take a look at the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores for this passage. It scores a grade level of 6.2 and a reading ease score of 71.8. Those scores are very typical of my media tie-in stuff and I’d say of fantasy fiction in general. One of the things that Flesch-Kincaid takes into account is vocabulary, and when you’re throwing around words like necromechanikal and voltaic compactor on the regular, it’s gonna bump up those scores.
To those unfamiliar with tabletop RPGs and miniature wargames, the games are full of a detailed descriptions of people, places, and things within the game setting. These entries live somewhere between narrative fiction and something akin to encyclopedia entry. They’re detailed, filled with descriptions, and often focus on the nuts and bolts of things like character abilities, historical events, geographic locations, religions and culture, or all of the above. Here’s a bit from one I published recently.
From “Heroes & Villains: Kapitan Ilari Borisyuk” published by Privateer Press
Kapitan Ilari Borisyuk is one of a new breed of Khadoran warcasters cut from the frozen bedrock of the Motherland but tempered by the urgent fire of an increasingly desperate nation. Tough, skilled, and highly adaptable, Kapitan Borisyuk makes up for his unconventional training in the magical arts with sheer grit and hard-won battlefield experience.
A peerless sniper, Borisyuk can reach out across any battlefield with uncanny precision. His magelock rifle Shadow of Death fires an array of rune shots that can inflict horrendous wounds on soft targets or blast through warjack armor with appalling ease. He transfers many of his sniper skills to the warjacks and troops he commands, creating a fast-moving kill squad that can cover any terrain, strike without warning, and fade away before an enemy can mount an effective counterattack.
As a leader, Borisyuk is well-loved by the rank and file. The warcaster understands the plight of the common soldier, relates to it, and his orders are both sensible and relayed in a fashion even the most hard-bitten career sergeant can appreciate.
This is the lead-in to an article about the character Kapitan Ilari Borisyuk that gives you his entire backstory, a narrative-style look at his abilities, and his place within the overall faction of Khador. As you can see, the style is more about relating facts in a creative way than writing fiction, and since it requires an author to impart fairly complicated concepts and ideas to a reader, the writing itself can be more complex. Again, the Flesch-Kincaid scores bear this out. The three paragraphs above scored a 7.6 grade level and 64.4 readability score. That’s still not college textbook level or anything, and there are popular fiction authors whose narrative work scores around this level, but for me, it’s on the high side.
It should be noted that I can score even higher (or lower?) with these articles depending on the faction and character. Old Ilari here and the Khadoran faction in general are a little more straightforward than say the character profiles I’m writing for the more demon-worshipping Orgoth. I hit double digits in grade level on a couple of those. 😊
What Does It All Mean?
Simply put, different genres and types of writing require different styles, and I don’t tend to measure quality of writing based on readability scores. What this does tell me is that I can be a flexible writer when I need to be, changing up my style to fit other genres or even types of writing. I think that’s a good thing, especially for a freelancer. I don’t feel like there’s a genre I can’t write. I would definitely put my own voice and style into the mix, but I think I can also meet genre expectations as far as prose complexity goes without going overboard.
Does your writing style change based on genre or anything else? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Category: Dubious Writing Advice, My WorkTags: Aeryn Rudel, authors, Fantasy, privateer press, Steampunk, Writing, writing tips