The Science of Writing book series reveals writing strategies of bestselling professional authors, and teaches you how to build upon those skills in your own writing. The first book in the series, Final Edit, The Final Hours of Your Final Draft, was launched on October 22, 2011. Although the subject of this first book is self-editing, many of the editing decisions derive from proven scientific data obtained through computational linguistics research. This is intentional. The series will gradually introduce you to an approach to writing that is focused on shaping your content into the form that will best communicate to your readers. Each succeeding book in the series will disclose more of the results of twelve years of research into bestsellers, both fiction and nonfiction, using proprietary software—an expert system that has undergone six years of development beyond the version that we released at


Dialogue Can Support Character Gender

At a recent writers conference, I heard an interesting lecture about dialogue, including 12 tips for developing great dialog.

One thing was missing: assuring that dialogue an author creates contains words that might likely be said by someone of the gender of the person who is speaking.

Gender Genie, it is easy to determine whether a man or a woman produced a particular written text, and I have reason to believe that Moshe Koppel’s algorithm employed by Gender Genie serves dialogue just as well.

When Koppel’s algorithm appeared in 2003, I immediately incorporated it into one of
FictionFixer’s modules in order to determine the degree of maleness or femaleness of the bestsellers I had been data-mining. It has been part of the software ever since. The Science of Writing book series relies on FictionFixer (a corpus linguistics/computational stylistics program) to establish the techniques of bestselling authors revealed in current and forthcoming books in the series.

The algorithm performed flawlessly, with one exception: the first 12,000 words or so of Stephen King’s Carrie(1974).

In the early 2000s, it was difficult to obtain full texts of bestsellers without scanning and OCR’ing them, a thankless task I ended up doing repeatedly during the initial development of
FictionFixer. At that time, the only work of Stephen King’s I had in digital format was the opening of Carrie, and Moshe Koppel’s algorithm was identifying the author as distinctly female.

If you’ve read Carrie, you will recall that the opening section concerns the famous female locker room scene and includes an inordinate amount of female dialogue.

I concluded this to be proof that the Koppel’s algorithm could identify female dialogue—believable female dialogue, that is—even when the author is male. Naturally, other hypotheses crossed my mind, some of which involved Stephen King’s wife Tabitha…

Later, I read the following in Stephen King’s
On Writing, “The next night, when I came home from school, Tabby had the pages. She’d spied them while emptying my wastebasket, had shaken the cigarette ashes off the crumpled balls of paper, smoothed them out, and sat down to read them. She wanted me to go on with it, she said. She wanted to know the rest of the story. I told her I didn’t know…about writing high school girls. She said she’d help me with that part.”

A forthcoming book in the Science of Writing series includes much more about dialogue and gender, but in the meantime, you can paste your character’s dialogue into the
Gender Genie site and determine whether the words might have been spoken by a character of that gender. When doing so, it is best to isolate all the dialogue of an individual character into a single file and paste it into the Gender Genie en masse. If you find you need to tweak a character’s manner of speaking to increase his or her gender authenticity, the site provides a link to a paper co-authored by Moshe Koppel that explains the surprisingly simple determining factors.