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From The Book Designer:
I recently had the opportunity to evaluate Marlowe, Authors A.I.’s analytical software for novels. Created by Matthew L. Jockers, Ph.D., and his data team, Marlowe is an artificial intelligence that serves to help authors improve their novel before sending it off for professional editing. The goal of this software is to “help authors refine their manuscripts and identify new market opportunities for their works.” (Note: I searched their website but did not find any reference to helping authors “identify new market opportunities for their works.”)
Marlowe is relatively new—first released in January 2020—and so I was a little skeptical about the reliability of the algorithms, fearing its creators could still be working out the kinks. Also new is the Authors A.I. organization itself, a June 2019 venture.
The manuscript I submitted to Marlowe was the final manuscript for my latest novel Nineteen Hundred Days, a book in the literary fiction genre that had gone through three levels of professional editing:
- manuscript critique
- line editing
- copy editing
The 24-page report I received for this manuscript includes 15 areas of analyses.
This section of the Marlowe report is about narrative arc and major turning points in the story line. Below is the visual representation provided for my novel.
The dotted line running across the graph indicates emotional neutrality.
The purple line represents conflict and conflict resolution. Upward slopes mark instances of conflict resolution where the story takes a positive turn, and downward slopes indicate the story taking a darker turn or some level of complication.
The more peaks and valleys, the more of an emotional roller coaster the character(s) is going on, which could be an indication of how successful the novel is in engaging readers. If the purple line doesn’t veer away much from the dotted line, the story is likely flat and uninteresting.
According to Marlowe, a good story will result in this line vacillating between above and below the dotted line with highs and lows throughout. And it’s not just about the number of spikes, it’s also about the depth of each one.
The green line represents the narrative arc. Marlowe claims there is no optimal shape for the narrative arc, and they are working on obtaining some comps from bestsellers for future reference. But my experience is that fictional stories are best structured if they include these narrative arc components:
- rising action
- falling action
When optimally included in the story line, these components form a definitive narrative arc.
My interpretation of this analysis for Nineteen Hundred Days is that it has a typical narrative arc (at least according to my knowledge and experience). With respect to the level and depth of conflict in the story line, I can only compare it to the sample report that Authors A. I. has on its website for The Da Vinci Code which has five peaks (compared to my six) with approximately the same depth and occurrences above and below the dotted line. While my novel is not in the same league as The Da Vinci Code, I can only feel good about this comparison.
. . . .
Marlowe analyzes the story’s pacing by plotting where it thinks readers will turn the pages more quickly (peaks on the graph) and the slower moments (valleys) where there is likely scene setting and background information given, claiming that the most successful writers vary the pace of their story to provide variety.
When I saw this analysis for my novel, I immediately wondered what was going on at the 57% mark to cause such a prominent “valley.” So I looked at chapters 20 through 25 and found three significant events:
- the protagonist’s best friend dies of cancer
- he is asked by police if he can identify someone they are looking for
- he learns of his mother’s jail sentence
I would not call these “slow moments,” so I am at a loss as to why the graph dips so low at the 57% mark.
Link to the rest at The Book Designer