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 http://www.writelikeausten.com
“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

Marriage–246

Church –53

Property –55

Jointure –only
3  (A jointure usually referred to a widow’s income,  sort of an annuity.)

Wealth  –33

Pounds  –95

Wedding–333
 

(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. http://www.writelikeAusten.com     
  

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