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If you break literature down by the numbers

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'Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve'
'Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve' by Ben Blatt
Courtesy of publisher

Every week, The Thread tackles your book questions, big and small. Ask a question now.

This week's question: What happens when you break literature down by the numbers?

A new book, "Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve," does just that.

Journalist and statistician Ben Blatt created a database with the text of thousands of books and started pulling out trends, like author's favorite words and how often cliches pop up.

Here are some of our favorite takeaways:

Suddenly, all was revealed

"Never use the word 'suddenly.'" That was one of Elmore Leonard's 10 rules for writers, as Blatt points out. But you know what they say about rules.

Blatt analyzed how often authors used the word "suddenly" in classic literature. "Suddenly," of course, calls to mind page-turners and potboilers — books heavy on plot and unexpected twists. The list of the top five "suddenly" offenders both reinforces and undermines that.

5) Dan Brown, of "Da Vinci Code" fame

4) Stephenie Meyer, of the "Twilight" phenomenon

3) F. Scott Fitzgerald

2) Joseph Conrad

1) J.R.R. Tolkien

Brown and Meyer, and even Tolkien to an extent, are no surprise their books involve sweeping quests and secrets and the occasional vampire showdown. Lots of "sudden" action. But Fitzgerald and Conrad's appearance on the list, when both are often held up as literary masters, is another dig at the soundness of Leonard's advice.

How's the weather?

We all know "it was a dark and stormy night." But is kicking off with the weather the best way to draw a reader in? Blatt analyzed how often authors rely on the weather to open their novels.

He found that a full 46 percent of Danielle Steel's books do just that — Steel takes the top spot. No one else even comes close. In second place is John Steinbeck, with 26 percent of his books opening with weather. Rounding out the top five are Nicholas Sparks, Willa Cather and Stephen King.

He muttered, she shivered

Using his database, Blatt analyzed the behavior of male and female characters in classic literature. He was able to pull out the unique behaviors — the things that women were more likely to do in a novel than men, and vice versa.

According to Blatt, you will find these words more often following "she," as opposed to "he": shivered, wept, murmured, screamed and married. 

And you'll find these words more often following "he," as opposed to "she": muttered, grinned, shouted, chuckled, killed.

You can find more data-related takeaways in Blatt's book, "Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classic, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing."

Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve