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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

How To Write Like Jane Austen--Maybe

Said to be Jane's silhouette
By Linore Rose Burkard
What, you've never wanted to write like Jane Austen? Okay, so it's a regency writer's thing. For other writers, hang in there and read this anyway—it may not pertain to your style, but heck, it's about writing. And if you happen to write early 19th C. English historical (aka, regency) romance you'll enjoy this the more.   
First, a few quick facts to bring us up to snuff.   Regency novels are so called because they're set during the brief Regency of the future George IV of England, 1811-1820. You've  heard of George III gone mad? Well, he didn't really, but that's another story. Anyway, his eldest son became Prince Regent during the King's final, 9 year bout with illness. Jane Austen wrote her books shortly before or during this regency, and her six major works were published therein. Thus, her books are standard-bearers, in a loose sense, for novelists who set their stories in that era.
So I was looking through old newsletters from JASNA (The Jane Austen Society of North America), and came across an interesting link shared by a fellow regency novelist. She says she keeps her writing style in the vein of Austen's by using
"Prinny." A Caricature by Gillray
The site will tell you, once you type in a word, if it appears in any of Austen's works--and how many times. It will give you synonyms that Jane used, and point out a few she did not. But can it really help you write like Austen?

I entered a few words that are often found in regency novels, and which I used in my first one, Before The Season Ends--and discovered, for starters, that Jane never once referred to the Prince Regent as Prinny. (Though the prince's inner circle of fashionable friends did. Probably not to his face.) Most authors today who have the gall to include the prince in their cast of characters (raising my hand!) almost certainly use the nickname.  Of course, he was alive at the time of Jane's writing--an excellent reason not to include him--besides which her stories were provincial, and centered upon ordinary families, not the aristocracy. 
 All right, so that isn't Austenesque.  I tried another wildly popular noun we regency writers use if our books are set in or near London: Mayfair. A regency hero who doesn't own a townhome in Mayfair is hardly a proper hero at all. And yet, alas, Jane did not once refer to the elite fashionable district by name.  Foiled again.

So what terms did she use that might be said to be "Austenesque"?
Fortune (ie.,wealth)-- 222 times. (Hmmm.)
Money-- 127
Rich    --78
Estate --77
Church --53
Property --55
Jointure --only 3  (A jointure usually referred to a widow's income,  sort of an annuity.)
Wealth  --33
Pounds  --95
(Notice how "wedding," "marriage," and "fortune" are used often? And men wonder why we love Jane!)

The list above is like a review of Austen's themes in brief, although her true themes cannot be reduced to single words. 

 For fun, I entered a few more words we all associate with Jane, such as,
Pride  --138 times
Prejudice --35
Sense  --238--quite a lot 
Sensibility --69
Gentlemanlike --24 
Prodigiously--5 (huh. And "prodigious"--only 9.)
Ah, but on to the true test, the site's "Austen Writer" app, which allows you to insert a paragraph of text and see whether it rings with, in their words, "Austenicity."  I entered the opening paragraph of Before the Season Ends, my first published regency.
Something would have to be done about Ariana.
All winter Miss Ariana Forsythe, aged nineteen, had been going about the house sighing,  "Mr. Hathaway is my lot in life!"  She spoke as if the prospect of that life was a great burden to bear, but one to which she had properly reconciled herself. When her declarations met with exasperation or reproach from her family--for no one else was convinced that Mr. Hathaway, the rector, was her lot--she responded in a perplexed manner. Hadn't they understood that her calling was to wed a man of the cloth? Was there another man of God, other than their rector, available to her? No. It only stood to reason, therefore, that Mr. Hathaway was her lot in life. Their cold reception to the thought of the marriage was unfathomable.
How did it do? Aside from the proper names, the Austen Writer told me the only words never used by Jane were:
        exasperation, responded, hadn't, wed, available. 

I could take that to mean the writing has significant "Austenicity," right? But wait, maybe not.  I took a paragraph from my as yet not released contemporary novel, FALLING IN, and entered it into the site. 

      ...Grinning, Pat felt in his pocket and pulled out a small felt-covered box, the kind that held rings. Oh, my gosh! He's going to propose! Sharona's heart constricted. Pat cupped the box reverently in one hand, and held it out, waiting for her to take it. She reached for it woodenly, her mind a jumble of thoughts.  It was true Pat had given warnings, saying things like, "Junior partners don't become senior partners in my firm without a wife; preferably a couple kids, too." But he'd always followed such statements with a laugh. Sharona never took his words as a hint of something coming. She hadn't dreamed he'd been seriously thinking of marriage.

The app again flagged personal pronouns, but also compound words and contractions; as well as "constricted," "cupped", "reverently," "woodenly," "preferably," and "dreamed." (Jane Austen was not fond of adverbs. I can learn something here.)

 Most words, however, were not flagged.  My regency excerpt fared better with the app than my contemporary one, but nevertheless the following conclusions can be drawn:   

1. You cannot use this little tool to write like Austen, although it will tell you if a word was never used by her.
2.  Jane used contractions sparingly. (Although certain contractions were often used in speech by the upper class of Jane's day such as, ain't.) 
How to write like Austen?
3. She used quite a few words in her writing that we still use today.

So if you want to write like Austen, the site can't really help you--not anymore than sitting down with a quill and ink and writing on foolscap, that is.  Yet I'll say this. If you write early 19th century fiction, get thee to the website--and play.     

Linore Rose Burkard  is best known for her Inspirational Regency Romance Series, which whisks readers back in time to early 19th century England. Fans of romance in the tradition of Austen and Heyer will enjoy meeting Linore's feisty heroines and dashing heroes. Linore also writes YA/Suspense as L.R.Burkard.

NEW! The exciting sequel to PULSE, RESILIENCE, is now available.
"A page turner! I finished it in less than 24 hours. Nonstop action and excitement!" (Amazon reviewer)

"21st century morality play urging humanity to be prepared." --Kirkus


  1. i'm not a regency author but i do have a quest to write a Jane Ausen-ian novel! thanks for the great resources to help me pull it off!

  2. I wish you all the best with your writing, Robin! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Great post....but honestly, since I'm not a writer, all I really took away from this is that I want to read your new book. :-)

  4. That's a satisfying takeaway for a writer! Thank you, Chappy Debbie!


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