Wednesday 30 November 2011

My Word Sins

I noticed a 'word cloud', a graphic illustration of your most frequently used words, on my very talented writer friend’s blog, thanks Sandie,  and couldn’t resist having a play around myself. First, I looked at my blog and the result was interesting. I loved the layout and was pleased that writing related words achieved greatest prominence - or should I say, I was relieved that writing achieved any prominence at all; I do aim to talk about writing related subjects here, even if I have been known to get a little distracted. 

But I winced when I saw an entry which would have had my English teacher racing for her red pen. ‘Get,’ had crept in at the sidelines. I quickly deleted it but then decided that this wasn’t really in the spirit of things so put my scissors away before I got to ‘however’.

This took me to my ‘completed’ novel, Glass Houses. Did I dare to do the word cloud for that? I have already edited it so many times and checked for recurrences of the words on Jackie’s Danger List, pinned to my pc. These are words I know would offend the eye in their quantity if left unchecked, such as, ‘just’, ‘finally’, ‘now’ and ‘look’, plus my very worst offender,  ‘really’. But I wondered if the word cloud would suggest some others, such as ‘but’ (already causing me a little uneasiness in this post.) From a twenty page snapshot, the result was that, ‘get’ was a little too large for comfort, ‘really’ was still hanging around and I couldn’t understand why ‘back’ was as frequently used as some character names. ‘Like’ also still taunted me, even though I’ve spent hours analysing each and every occurrence of ‘like’ in the book and feel I’ve deleted or changed them wherever humanly possible.

I wasn’t surprised that the main characters were large but it took me to a question I ask myself constantly: do I use the character names too often when they could be substituted for a pronoun? Getting the balance right on this is tricky, particularly with two characters of the same sex in one scene – too many ‘she’ and you’re left with a character with four hands able to perform fascinating contortion, together with instant variations in hair length with two interchanging colours. You see my difficulty?

I looked at my current work-in-process, Misguidance. Would the characters’ names be as large and would there be a higher incidence of ‘bad’ words as I haven’t even thought about editing this yet?

Again, the main characters are unsurprisingly large but ‘Sarah’ is huge so I need to keep a check on my over-naming tendencies. ‘like’ has slipped itself in again and we have ‘back’ rearing its ugly head. ‘Back’ troubles me the most, it wasn’t a word I was aware I used plentifully at all.

So, thanks to Sandie, and a five minute diversion, I’m trawling through Glass Houses again and writing a check-list for Misguidance. Thankfully, I enjoy editing and love finding something new to look at because that nugget might just be the element which changes a potential publisher’s ‘no’ to a ‘yes’.

What are your most oft used words and phrases? If you write, have a go yourself at: Just copy and paste your text and then share the results with us, simple. Thanks for reading!


  1. I'm a great fan of wordle. I always have a word cloud of my current WiP pinned above my desk. If people ask to have a look at my WiP (and i'm not usually keen to show them) I just whip out the word cloud and tell them that's it!

    Good luck with the editing and submitting. x

  2. I like that idea, Louise! Might have to do that myself - formed from a select piece of text! Thanks for reading.

  3. I've done a word cloud for the occasional chapter but never my full 95,000-word novel. When I did, just now, lo and behold I got a similar result to yours. Biggest by far is my MC's name, but both 'back' and 'like' are horribly prominent, followed by 'know', 'asked' 'get' and 'got'.
    Sometimes editing can feel unending!

  4. Thanks Janet, that's really interesting and quite comforting that you found similar words in your work :) I haven't word cloud-ed my whole novel but I will now you've mentioned it. Were you surprised to find 'back'? That really was a new one on me.

  5. Oh mercy! Not sure I dare. Kim has just been editing Walker for me and I am THE most appalling over-namer. I think this would be way too uncomfortable. Needless to say I shall now hustle over to have a go. :) xx

  6. He he! Let me know how you get on, Jane. Over-naming is such an easy trap. It wasn't helped recently when I read an agent's top 10 of instant reasons for rejection, one of which was, wait for it, too many pronouns so not knowing who's doing what. Aaarg! Good luck!

  7. Hi Jax, I JUST want to say that HOWEVER hard I try I REALLY REALLY can't help liking it and want to LOOK at it again, FINALLY I want to JUST say once again so that your blog is great and I REALLY REALLY do GET it!

  8. Hi Lyn, thank you :) The word clouds are great, aren't they! My friend had the idea of doing one for her sister's wedding and also for her husband's 40th - typing in pertinent words and copying and pasting the most important several times to engineer the result. Clever!

  9. Hi Jackie, I found you from Jake Barton's blog. I'm just starting out with the ridiculous notion that I might be able to write and may even have something to say - I know, groan, another one! But this post is really useful - I'm definitely a "just" abuser and have been known to dwell too long on "actually". Will definitely be trying this! Oh, and I'm a Sarah so have no problem with looming large except in real life!

  10. Hi Sarah, I love the fact that you're so large in my wordcloud! Thanks for coming over to my blog and it's comforting to know I'm not the only 'just' abuser who also wanders all too frequently into 'actually'. I wish you all the very best with your writing. Is it fiction and if so, where are you at with it? My advice to you would be to enjoy the process and hope for a publishing deal which would be the icing on the cake, rather than the other way around :)


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