f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Imaginary Metrics – Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics in Dialogue

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Day 2 of Imaginary Metrics – Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics in Dialogue

My point in all this is not to reduce a novel to a number or score. Never am I going to say that a book with 25% dialogue is better than a book with 29% dialogue. That’s silly.

My hunch, however, is that there are patterns out there in the world of books and publishing which we’re simply not keying in on. And if we can understand some of those patterns and what they mean to readers, that’s another tool we have at our disposal.

So today we’re going to start with ODP—Overall Dialogue Percentage.

This one is fun to figure out…you use lots of highlighter.

First, count how many lines of text fit on an average full page of text. Our production gurus (often overlooked but wonderful people who deserve our thanks) estimated that most typical trade paperback books average between 30-37 lines per page. Really it doesn’t matter, just as long as you know how many lines are in the book you’re counting.

I’m using Ezekiel’s Shadow because I have lots of copies and don’t mind highlighting one of them.

Next, go through the book and highlight the lines that include dialogue. (If you can, use only the pages fully filled with text. Otherwise you really start having to do math.) As you do this, count the number of highlighted lines. When you’re done add all your lines of dialogue and divide by pages*lines-per-page. Ta da! You’ve just calculated your book’s ODP. (You don’t need to count the entire book, but the fewer pages you use the less accurate your result.)

What will we find when we do this? Frankly, I have no idea. And since this isn’t actual science I’m not going to do a hypothesis and null hypothesis and all that jazz. Instead, I’m going to jump in with some guesses. (Which we’ll put to the test over the next couple of weeks.)

First guess: In general, genre fiction will have a higher ODP than supposed “literary” fiction.

Second guess: Most genre fiction will come in at 25% ODP. “Literary” fiction will be closer to 15%.

Third guess: The highest ODP genre will be…actually I don’t know. Maybe romance? Or mystery. What do you think?

Fourth guess: I will not find a book with a lower ODP than Jose Saramango’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Which, I think, might be .000.

Fifth guess: Within their respective genres, CBA books will have just a slightly higher ODP than ABA books.

Anybody else?

The data will come soon. I have no idea what, if anything, it will prove. I just wanted to float the metric today. There is a very high statistical probability that I’ll be proven very wrong in all this. But it’s kind of fun. (And let me know if you’d like to count a book for me. That’d be great.)
Continue to Day 3 of Imaginary Metrics