Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map and Everything Bad Is Good For You, was looking at Amazon.com's new "Text Stats" feature on one of his book's pages. Two stats caught his eye: "Average Words Per Sentence" and "% Complex Words". He began to experiment with these stats, plugging those of various authors into a spreadsheet of his own; he then saw how they fell on a graph.
Seth Godin sums up the results in his related post:
Steven Johnson has done some interesting (but not surprising) research on the complexity of the work of a few writers. Basically, short, simple sentences not only sell more books, but spread ideas farther and faster.
In addition to the above, these points most interested me:
1. Amazon's new "Text Stats" feature is located under the "Inside This Book" subhead on each book's page. Look for it the next time you're on an Amazon book page. Compare your favorite authors. Are you attracted to a certain sentence length and word complexity?
2. Johnson found that, when comparing authors to their own books and also to other authors' books:
...in that cluster, each author's books are closer to his other books than they are to the other two author's books. In other words, each of us has a certain sweet spot of complexity that we come back to book after book.
Godin likens this consistent sentence length throughout many books to an author's fingerprint.
3. If you're participating in National Novel Writing Month, try to vary your sentence length as you write. This should NOT, however, be your first priority — you're just trying to bang out that sloppy, imperfect, 50,000-word first draft in 30 days, remember? But if you do catch yourself writing and writing and realize that a sentence you're creating is about to swallow you whole, stop. Breathe. Wrap it up. Move on.
Do not get tangled up in your words.