Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Word Cloud!

Authors Scott Westerfeld (Uglies series) and his wife, Justine (How to Ditch Your Fairy) teamed up last year to post NaNoWriMo tips daily during November. Aside from Justine's wonderful advice, I also learned she never uses white protagonists in any of her novels and she loves Avatar: The Last Airbender! Although I applaud her for both of these amazing things, I am here today to talk about one of Scott's posts.

Yes, Justine's husband posted something so cool, it got me to crawl back into the world of blogging. And way from homework, but that's another problem altogether. He talked about how readers snicker quietly when the same handful of words are overused. What can be done about this? you ask. Now that you mention it, I wonder what words I overuse.
He introduced us to this amazing thing called The Word Cloud:

It is a cool device that, once you feed it text, gives you a visual of frequently used words, the overused ones in bigger text. It automaticaly excludes words like 'a', 'and' and 'the' so no worries. Here's an example of the Word Cloud for my story Children of the Sun:

Wordle: Children of the Sun

The words will vary depending on your novel, but a handful of words will always be bigger than the others. There are words you can forget about or that you want to be big. For me, the biggest words appear to be character names: Zuko (Prince), Areida, and Uncle. As you can see, 'Prince' is slightly bigger than 'Zuko', but this is because Zuko often uses or is refered to by his title ('the Prince', 'Prince Zuko', 'I am Prince of this Nation').

Even if they aren't character names, don't freak out just because you see a lot of big font on the page. That is a good thing at times. Though it varies depending on the content of your story, there are words you want to show up often. In my case, the words 'Avatar' and 'Fire' are used often. 'Firebender' shows up as well, but in smaller font, as it is often replaced with things like 'able to bend fire', 'Firebend', or 'bend/bender'. Nation is also fine, as it is a common word in this world, though one I may want to cut down on for the rare instances it isn't needed.

However, amid those words are those I use far too often. So far, the story is only 12,553 words. 'Eyes', 'know', 'away', 'though', 'hand', 'thought', 'back', 'just', and 'one' should not take up so much space! Each bigger word should be examined, however, with care. Don't begin hacking your novel to pieces yet. (Since I don't have much time, however, I'll simply talk about the ones I feel others may overuse as well.)

Eyes- In this story, eye-color matters. Fans of the show are aware of how each Nation's natural benders have different eyes colors unique to them. Green for Earthbenders, blue for Waterbenders, gold for Firebenders, and grey for Airbenders. Non-benders can also have this eye-color. Sometimes, the word 'eyes' cannot be avoided. You need to close or open your eyes, examine the color of someone else's . . . Areida's eye-color is an important plot device and you certainly don't want to go around using words like 'orbs'! However, the word should still be used less. I could do some rewording to avoid it or replace it 'gaze' when I can get away with it. Something also tells me I may be using eyes to convey emotion: a big no-no for me.

Know/knew- These are tricky words. They show up often in everyday life, so you may be able to get away with using them . . . but just in case, you may want to watch out. Sadly, I'm unsure of many ways you could avoid it, at least without making everything too complex. Simple is better. Perhaps 'I didn't know his name' could be replaced with 'his name evaded me' or 'I couldn't remember his name. Carl? Joe? Carl/Joe paced the room' . . . blah, blah, blah. I avoided the words this time, but they'll come back to haunt me! In cases of interrogations, like with my story, it may be okay to use 'know' a few times . . . sparingly.

Hand- What on earth could you use to replace 'hand'? In cases of action or violence, this word might be okay, along with 'feet' or 'head'. If you still want to avoid it, you can possibly be more specific (Simple is better?) by using 'fist' or 'palm'. Hands usualy convey action, so this word isn't bad. 'Hands' is also much bigger than 'hand', oddly enough.

Just- I tend to use 'just' as an adjective. 'Not just yet.' 'She was just standing there.' I, among others, could cut back on this, find another way to convey and stress simple actions.

Some words such as 'like', 'face', and 'back' I don't see how I could use so much . . . At least now I know to cut back on them if I can, play with structure as inconspicuously as possible until I find one that works.

Other words I overuse to a ridiculous degree are 'something' and 'one'. I used 'one' in the above paragraph! 'Even' is yet another word I use to indicate stress ("I even used it in an example!"); I'll look for all this when I reread and edit my first draft. I'll keep it in mind while writing the next chapter.

The point is how helpful/awesome the Word Cloud is! Click the link I provided above the picture, post your novel (or a portion) into the field, and click Save to Gallery. Make a false title and name. They don't save any bit of the text you post, so no need to worry. Let me know in your next blog post how it went. Maybe even post the actual Word Cloud as I did. It's a great tool if you're looking to reduce word count or worried about overuse of noticeable vocabulary. Or just plain interesting. Let me know how it went, what you think your words mean, etc. Don't forget-- every novel is different! If you're writing a novel about monkeys in space, you better hope at least the term 'space' is in big letters! Remember what I said about names and words like 'Nation' and 'Fire'. If they're important to the novel, it is good to see them in big letters!

Hope this post was worth the read!

Let me know if you have any trouble with the picture/link.



  1. Once you know your comfort words, you can use the "find" feature in Word and highlight them all to see if they're necessary in the text.

    Btw... NaNo starts in 5 days! Friend me at Karen McGrath! I have two free Halloween reads on my blog. This is a three parter and a new one coming up this Friday. :)

  2. lol! i'll try that, thanks. :D

  3. OMG I LOVE THAT SITE!!! XD and this is a great post, very good advice! :) I also have the "just" problem. lol

  4. Thank you!! Looks like we've both neglected our blogs during NaNo. lol! And yes- 'just' is annoying. O why must I use it so much?

  5. I just tried the word thing on my own story...Katara and Zuko were in giant letters...then it was slave, bed, etc :P

    I feel like a pervert. -.-

    The humorous aspects of this aside, it's super useful...I overuse 'just' all the time. See the first sentence :P Ah well...writing is a constant work in progress.