Metacybernetics Grammatical analysis of fantasy fiction and writing styles of Novelists Tue, 28 Jul 2015 17:12:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Be you Mon, 16 Dec 2013 02:50:46 +0000

Stephen Donaldson Analysis Part Three – Evaluation and References Sat, 13 Aug 2011 23:19:18 +0000 I believe that the main aims of the project have been at least partly achieved because of what has emerged in the findings section. Specifically the following ideas:

(a)    The use of modifier complexes (by the author) to intensify an event in the text

(b)   The use of metaphor (by the author) as a reference device at least partly to create lexical cohesion

(c)    The emergence of the how the author uses synonymy and repetition to focus the text on a character or an event.

(d)   How a single metaphoric lexis is used by the author throughout the text rather than just locally in one sentence. Although this may appear as a repetition of point (c), it is not as specific and draws attention to the fact of how the author has spread that metaphorical lexis across the text not just used it as a reference device.

(e)    How the author has limited himself to a few specific foci and how these were demonstrated through the analysis of the lexical and reference chains.

All of the aforementioned specifically meet at least some of the aims of the project. From amongst those aims I would say that the following have been met:


  • “In what specific way has the writing style of novelist Stephen Donaldson changed since he started writing his series of novels known as ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever?’”
    • Whilst we know there have been some changes, such as the use of modifier complexes near the end of a text instead of the start, we cannot say for sure if these were deliberate. But that doesn’t negate that we have come to know that the grammatical style of the author is different in text 2 as compared to text 1.


    • What are the specific grammatical features of this stylistic change?


    • We are now aware of some of those features i.e. the different ways that modifier complexes can be positioned in a text to affect the reader experience.


  • Can we create a model of how the author writes?
    • Hillier (Coffin et al, 2003) demonstrated that Dickens used postmodification of nouns to affect the reader experience and I believe that my project has confirmed that Donaldson has acted similarly. Based on the aforementioned I would postulate that at least a partial model can be constructed and at the least, the concepts that have emerged in my findings can be immediately made applicable if someone should choose to utilise them in their writing.

After some retrospection I believe that it is possible to include a wider register analysis using more analysis techniques to gain more of an insight into the changes in Donaldson’s writing style.

With the specific aim in mind to track a writer’s stylistic changes, future studies can include more texts from the author not just the first and the last in a series. Using more of the texts in between could provide insight into intermediary changes in the author’s style.


Biber, D., Conrad, S. and Leech, G. (2002) Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English, London, Pearson.
Coffin, C., Hewings, A. And O’Halloran, K. (2004) Applying English Grammar: Functional and Corpus Approaches, London, Arnold.
Donaldson, S., (2010), accessed 01/09/2010
E303 Units 1-7: (2006) Book 2: Getting Started – Describing the grammar of speech and writing. Milton Keynes, The Open University.
E303 Units 8-11: (2006) Book 3: Getting Inside English – Interpreting texts. Milton Keynes, The
Open University.
O’Halloran, K., Wynne, M., (2007) Corpus Tasks (UK), The Open University.

Stephen Donaldson Analysis Part Two – Findings Sun, 10 Jul 2011 19:05:33 +0000 Here is a summary of my findings, I’ll add the detailed analysis in a future post.


The extracts are taken from fiction novels and the purpose of the text is for readers to be entertained by them. Both are from the opening pages of their respective novels and hence the experiential content is the setting of the frame for the story that is about to be told. Both texts use some specialised terms:

Text 1 has some medical terminology:

(14) Visual Surveillance of Extremities

(13, 19) V.S.E

Text 2 has specialised terms from the semantic field of geology:

(13) orogeny, tectonic shifts


The texts are written in the third person (omniscient), that can be evidenced by the use of mental processes realised by verb phrases and abstract participants realised by noun phrases:

text 1: (13) he concentrated, his will

text 2: (13) mind (16) awareness, he recognized


Both texts are in the written mode and there is no interaction between the writer and the readers – both are in separate environments and there is no possibility of immediate feedback. The graphical channel is used (i.e. processed by the eye).

Use of complex noun modification and modifier complexes:

Text 2 has a higher percentage of complex noun modification than text1 (see Appendix 1, Table 11). However, both texts contain complex noun modification and specifically postmodifier noun complexes. The complexes in text 1 appear to occur regularly and occur on lines 1, 6, 8, and 9 and then reoccur on line 14. Other forms of noun modification also occur on lines 11, 12, 13 and 18 and include premodification through the use of describers and classifiers.

Text 2 has a different pattern, where most of the postmodifier noun complexes occur nearer to the end of the extract on lines 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18. In addition, text 2 uses much simpler forms of postmodification early on which are realised through prepositional phrases and start with the preposition ‘of’: of Andelain, (2) of eons, (10) of eternity. These simpler qualifiers seem to start on line 1 and then reappear throughout until line 10 after which point the aforementioned postmodifier complexes start to appear as qualifiers.

I have concluded that there is a possible literary function for these patterns in postmodifier complexes. This is because their occurrence coincides with intense events within the narrative. In text 1 they occur when a child is in possible danger. Here they appear to serve the purpose of intensifying the reader experience by providing a lot of detail about the event in the story. In text 2 there is a similar function as the narrative culminates in an intense depiction of events so too does the appearance of postmodifier complexes increase in complexity with the final qualifier appearing in the below form (modifier types in bold and curly brackets):

“But their shadows {ed} paled {prepositional} in the fervid gleaming {prepositional} of Loric’s krill, {adjective} bright {prepositional} with wild magic—

and {prepositional} in the ghostly luminescence {prepositional} of the four High Lords {relative} whose presence {ed} formed the boundaries {prepositional} of Covenant’s crisis, and {prepositional} of Linden Avery’s.”

As for the simpler qualifiers used early on in text 2 then they may have the function of easing the reader into the book due to their lower lexical density as compared to the later modifier complexes. Ironically the lexical density could possibly be a reason for using postmodifier complexes early on in text 1, i.e. to capture the reader’s attention through detailed descriptions of events (which many first time author’s aim to do).

Lexical Density

Text 2 has a higher lexical density than text 1 (Appendix 1, table 10) probably because there is frequent use of modifier complexes in text 2. Both texts have a higher lexical density than the fiction register in the OU-BNC which is 45.8. Text 1 has a value of 48 and text 2 has one of 52. Again this is possibly due to the frequent use of modifier complexes in both texts, however in order to be certain the OU-BNC texts must be analysed for comparison.

Lexical Chain Analysis

Text 1 has five chains; they are all concerned with the characters in the narrative and their responses to one another and chain (e) forms an ongoing metaphor. The long simultaneous chains indicate the author is focussed on the characters in the narrative and their interactions with the main character. The author’s use of lexis in this fashion seems to indicate his method of introducing the main character.

Text 2 has four chains and two of them are concerned with an ongoing transformation in the main character. If fact they contain a tightly focussed lexis of repetition and synonymy, for example:

Chain (a) contains: Eons, time, millennia

The chains in text 2 seem to contain more related nouns per sentence than those in text 1 and that is an indication that the author seems more focussed in his writing in text 2 (i.e. writing more about less). Again the chains occur simultaneously yet the occurrences of repeated or synonymous words in chain (d) have more sentences between them (i.e. there is more whites space between the top and the bottom of chain (d)).  And this could serve the purpose of introducing a new character without interrupting the without interrupting the main flow of the current reader experience.

Reference Chain analysis

The reference chains in both texts are unambiguous and promote lexical cohesion in the texts and support the findings based on the lexical chain analysis. Interestingly, in text 1, when naming the main character for the first time the writer uses synonymy to refer to previous traits of the character in order to link the name to the character (without naming the character directly):


the spasmodic snarl > a wild grimace


machinery > mechanical


(Appendix 1, Table 4)


Metaphor analysis

Both texts contain ongoing metaphoric language that creates a thread of lexical items that contribute to lexical cohesion in the texts. Text 1 has a metaphor of machinery and text 2 of earthquakes. The lexis for each respective metaphor modifies nouns used to identify the main character in each text:

Text 1:

(1)   like a mechanical derelict


Text 2:

(15) with fault-lines and potential slippage

Stephen Donaldson Analysis Part One Thu, 07 Jul 2011 00:47:12 +0000 My study is a very specific one and hence has made the task of data collection fairly straight forward. I intend to base my study on the following two texts:

Text 1:

 Lord Foul’s Bane, Chapter One:Golden Boy, Book One of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, Paperback Edition Publisher: Del Rey (June 12, 1987), 496 pages, Language: English, ISBN-10: 0345348656, ISBN-13: 978-0345348654

Word Count of first five paragraphs: 337


Text 2:

Against All Things Ending, Chapter One: The Burden of Too Much Time, Book Three of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen R. Donaldson 2010, This excerpt created from the final manuscript version of the book, accessed 06/09/2010

Word Count of first four paragraphs: 328

I am using these two specific texts because text 1 is Donaldson’s first book in the aforementioned series and text 2 is Donaldson’s latest book in the same series. There is a twenty three year period between them and Donaldson has written tens of novels since then and has had a lot of time to develop his writing.

Text 1 was originally published in 1977 by Holt Publishing (Donaldson, 2010). Text 2 is unpublished as a hardcopy, yet the first chapter was released on the author’s website in the form of a portable document format file or ‘.pdf’. Text 1 will be copied via manual data entry directly from the aforementioned published paperback version. Text 2 will be cut and paste into a Microsoft Word Document from the ‘pdf’ file. I have taken the liberty to exclude the final paragraph from Text 1, ‘Lord Foul’s Bane’, and include the final paragraph (that spans pages 2 and 3) from Text 2, ‘Against All Things Ending’, so that the word count – for the purposes of the comparative study – becomes more similar between the two texts.

To perform a detailed study within the word limit and scope/focus of my study I have chosen to limit my analysis to the first four or five paragraphs of the first chapter of each book. The additional benefit of this choice is that the first page of a fiction book is usually high impact and attempts to capture the attention of the reader immediately and hence should display some of the writer’s best work and literary abilities. In a larger project perhaps with a wider scope, extracts from a range of the author’s works could be utilised rather than just two extracts I shall be using.

During the conduct of my investigation I realised that in order to achieve some of the aims I made I would have to limit the word count so that a more focussed analysis could be performed. This decision was partly influenced by the work of Hillier (Coffin et al, 2004) on the grammatical comparison between the work of Dickens and Tarner. A thorough analysis of noun modification would be verbose and to give justice to the topic would require a more focussed study on a smaller text as Hillier did.

(All references shall be provided at the end of the series of articles.)

SFL Analysis of Stephen Donaldson’s Writing Wed, 05 Jan 2011 23:07:37 +0000 The real title should be A Systemic Functional Analysis of a tiny tiny part of Stephen Donaldson’s writing. And considering that his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant spans ten volumes and I’ve only looked at a page or so of two of those, then the title should really be…well you get the point.

I’m sure there are many capable linguistics student’s out there who have the capability to point out my mistakes but that’s o.k. My ‘research’ philosophy has always been: What useful distinctions can I discover that will make a difference? In the case of analysing  prose, specifically from the fantasy fiction genre, I’m looking for distinctions that I can later reproduce,  that may perhaps improve my own writing abilities and/or inspire new directions for research in the field of SFL.  My primary motivation lies in analysing Stephen Donaldson’s writing for the purposes of linguistically describing the change in writing style that he has developed over a specific period of time.

I think the following questions will be useful in my analysis:

How can that change be described using systemic linguistics?

In what specific way has the writing style of novelist Stephen Donaldson changed since he started writing his series of novels known as ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever?’

What are the specific grammatical features of this stylistic change?

Are there any underlying grammatical patterns that the writer uses repeatedly in his work?

Whilst I have raised several questions, the nature of these questions is essentially the same. A description is required of how this author and novelist structures his writing and how that writing has changed over a period of time and presupposed in these questions is also the question: In what ways has the author’s writing remained the same?