It’s no secret that former US President Bill Clinton and world-renowned author James Patterson have collaborated on two political thrillers, The President is Missing and The President’s Daughter. But how much of the writing was actually done by the former president?
Using a technique called “stylometry”, which uses computers to statistically analyse the frequency of words in a text, it can be established that Patterson likely wrote most of The President is Missing. Stylometry can be used to determine who is most likely to have written a particular piece of work by analysing a writer’s solo-authored works and applying them to collaborative efforts.
Analysis found that Patterson did most of the writing for The President is Missing, with the only exception being the novel’s ending, which is essentially a “fiction-free” version of Clinton’s “politico-historical thoughts”.
When it comes to their second novel, The President’s Daughter, stylometry once again indicates that Patterson did nearly all of the writing. However, there is a slight exception – Clinton wrote the beginning of the novel.
Hillary Clinton, Bill’s wife, has also coauthored a novel with Canadian writer Louise Penny. Stylometry indicates that Hillary contributed a significant portion of the actual writing for State of Terror, with more than half of the novel matching her authorial fingerprint.
The division of labour between Penny and Hillary seems much more equitable than it is with Patterson and Bill. While Hillary felt confident enough in her own writing to take on such a task in her own hand, Bill appears to be playing a bit part in the next phase of the Patterson literary machine.
It’s clear that stylometry can be an effective tool in determining authorship in collaborative works. It’s also an interesting insight into how authors work together – and how much work each one actually puts into the project.