The Lee Child inspired ‘Literary Fiction Detector’.

tl;dr: a cunning tool for analysing written text

On the 5th March 2011 The BBC broadcast a series of programmes celebrating World Book Night. Amoung them was the particularly entertaining “The Books We Really Read”, presented by the friskily intelligent Sue Perkins.

I was particularly struck by a comment made by Lee Child, blockbuster author of what is known as ‘genre’ fiction, about ‘literary’ fiction.

I happen to be married to a, frankly, stunning literary fiction author who has just signed a squeelingly fantastic book deal with Bloomsbury. As she explains it (and excuse my clumsy paraphrasing), ‘genre’ fiction is anything that can be slotted neatly into a pigeon hole – ‘thriller’, ‘crime’, ‘romance’, etc.

Literary is all the remaining fiction that refuses to be categorised, like “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen.

Lee Child gave the somewhat grating opinion that ‘literary’ writers are jealous of ‘genre’ writers, because genre writers could, if they so wished, write literary fiction, whereas literary witers can’t write genre.Β  He attributed this to the fact that, while genre writers know big words like anyone else, they are able to choose to use smaller, better words.

This made me wonder if his assertion could be tested in any way and so, standing on the shoulders of giants, I had the cunning folks over at CK-Conception knock up a simple tool to test the readability, and verbiositinessitude, of any text you care to drop into it.

You’ll find the tool here:

I hope it proves useful, entertaining, educational, and that maybe it will even go some way to alleviating someone’s hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.



  1. Pingback: Claire King | Pens at Dawn

  2. cat

    Oh right – there’s that thingy on word which supposedly tells you the grade-level of your writing. If I use short sentences etc etc. .. bah humbug. I just use it as a useful word count device instead. πŸ™‚

    • charlie

      Thanks for stopping by, cat πŸ™‚

      The state of the art isn’t sufficiently advanced, yet, for us to really have computers ‘analyse’ art in any truly meaningful sense.

      That said, leaving aside the gentle ribbing of Mr Child, the algorithms used here (and those used in Word) are based on some pretty sound science, and can be useful as a ‘litmus test’ of overall readability.

  3. Fact of the moment which is tangentially related:

    In harry potter the besom (spelling?) is used to quell all poison. A real Besom is a hairball from incide a goat and actaully works at absorbing arsenic out of wine leaving it safe to drink.

    Harry Potter is ganre fiction that made the leap to being mainstream. David Gemmel once told me that he was hugely jealous of any science fiction or fantasy writed who managed to be perceived as being out side of the genre as their income was massively increased. He cited JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett as well as whoever ity was who wrote Cloud Atlas and got away with it.

  4. Didn’t catch the program, but read a write-up on his views at the time. Couldn’t quite relate at the time, but I remembered his words when put on the spot by a publisher recently to come up with a plot for a theme they suggested in 24 hours – what he should have probably emphasized is the writing process, and how its different for ‘genre’ fiction, and its ‘literary’ cousin. Your post here inspired me to post about my writing process; will link back to you. Good job!

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