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The Complexity Of Famous Writers’ Prose, Visualized

A Chromapoem is a new type of visualization by New Orleans-based designer Lola Migas that automatically translates text into beautiful radial graphs that show just how complex a snippet of prose is.

In these visualizations, each word is represented as a block within a giving ring. In any ring, a group of blocks with a similar hue represents a sentence; the more complicated that sentence, the redder it becomes. Each new ring represents a line break. Each Chromapoem is generated by software running on top of the Processing programming language, which you can see happen in real time in this early demo:

Using Chromapoems, Lola Migas has already visualized a number of famous works, including William Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet, Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening,” Frank O’Hara’s poem “Having a Coke With You,” Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Shakespeare wrote more complex poetry than Frost, and Martin Luther King’s 17-minute speech on equal rights tends to be a much more complex Chromapoem than Lincoln’s carefully worded two-minute address.

The tool could be more useful. Right now, the complexity of sentences is determined by the number of uncommon letters (like J, Q, X, and Z) found inside it. Judging the complexity of a writer based upon his willingness to write about quiet xylophones and zebra jerky seems pretty one-dimensional. Still, there’s no reason Chromapoem couldn’t be built out to give a more useful look at the complexity of a writer. Just imagine if Amigas integrated this with the Hemingway app. Writers would suddenly have a whole new way to police their purple prose.JB