(Alternative linkbait title: Try this one weird trick for finding repetition in your writing!)
So I’ve had a long and kinda irritating day, and all I really want to do is drink Scotch and grumble, but I don’t because I’ve got a work ethic and I owe you folks a blog post.
And I don’t want to drink because I have a platelet donation tomorrow.
…okay, fine, I don’t because I’m out of Scotch.
So as a quick, (hopefully) useful post tonight, I want to talk about a tool I like to use when writing, and especially when editing, to examine which words I’m using the most in the work. It’s especially handy when writing a large piece, such as this goddamn friggin’ novel that refuses to end.
You’ve probably heard of it – it’s the website Wordle, which generates word clouds from copypasted text. If you’ve not visited it yourself, you’ll surely have seen its outputs; there was a real fad in the late 2000s for using it to generate English textbook covers or irritating Facebook image posts.
But anyway, Wordle generates word art where the sizes of the words show their relative frequency in the text, something that can make things sink in much more viscerally than a plain word count. And in the process, it lets you see which notes you’re hitting the most often.
Here’s the entirety of Raven’s Blood (so far) in all its glory:
Okay, so what can I learn from this?
- I use Kember’s name a lot. Which makes sense; she’s the viewpoint protagonist and in every scene. (I also use ‘she’ and ‘her’ a fair bit, but they’re filtered out of this.) But even so, is she in too prominent a role? Is there a balance between her and the other major characters? I don’t live to change POV, even in a third-person novel, but if I was trying to go for more of an ensemble story this would help me juggle the cast.
- Two other major characters, the Ghost Raven (the masked hero) and Silas (the love interest) have roughly equal prominence, which does surprise me; I thought the Raven would loom much larger. Still, that will shift as the novel nears its end.
- Of the other notable characters, only Jesseck, Roland Arrowsmith and Deathgrip make an appearance here; others like Idana, Blackvine and the Coglord haven’t played much of a role so far. Again, a bit surprised by that; I need to push some of those characters into a stronger position soon.
- There are lots of movement and positioning terms in the mix – left, back, behind etc. I’ve tried to make fight scenes engaging and kinetic, and to create clear visuals of what’s happening, and these are useful tools for that. At the same time, prepositions and placement adjectives aren’t as engaging as active verbs, and those are barely a blip here. Does that mean I’m varying them effectively, or that I’m not using enough? I’ll look for that in my next major editing pass – and try to work out why I use ‘back’ so often.
- ‘Like’ pops up a lot, which either means my characters are Valley girls or (more correctly) that I’m using a lot of similes. Too many similes? Should I try to pull things back to more literal descriptions, or push it further to replace some similes with metaphors? What’s more appropriate for a YA novel? I think I have it right, but this helps me be aware of it.
- I use ‘man’ a lot more than ‘woman’; I use ‘girl’ a lot more than ‘boy’. I have no idea if that means anything.
- And so on.
None of this is OH MY GOD LOOK WHAT I HAVE WROUGHT insight, but it’s useful stuff for the editing cycle. And as we know, most times editing takes a shitload longer than writing the book in the first place. (Christ, I hope that’s not true.)
So yeah, try plugging your work-in-progress in and turning it into a word cloud – you might see something unexpected. And if you do, feel free to come along and tell us all about it.
Now, back to staring angrily into the corner until a bottle of Wild Turkey suddenly materialises. It has to happen eventually.