Using A Wordcloud To Examine How You Write

Here’s a wordcloud on the full text of a book I wrote. I’ll tell you what it tells me in a minute. For now, just scan over that blob yourself and see if anything stands out for you. wordcloud

Anyway, a wordcloud (incase you’ve not run into one of these yet) counts how often words repeat in something and builds a picture like this – bigger words here repeat more often. The whole picture gives you a comparison of word choices.  You set a cutoff frequency count, so it isn’t every word in the document. Make sense?

In my day job, one thing I do is study and optimize how people communicate with each other. This sort of blob here calls me out on a few things I do that maybe I should be careful about, and maybe I should keep doing. Either way, there are insights into the word choices and emphases I made in the book. That’s a big deal if you’re a writer, to help you get better. Know what I mean yet? Let’s dig in, I’ll get to the meat of it.

Staring at me like the eye of Sauron (nerd reference!) is the word, ‘like’. I also know from my day job that the majority of us think and learn visually and that we absorb information quicker and more effectively when we can relate to it naturally. Parents get that point well without being told – tell a kid not to cross the street and they’ll bound away as fast as they can. Tell them a scary story about a kid named, Lulu who used to live down the street and looked just like them but crossed without waiting on the ‘walk’ sign and can’t get up from her chair anymore…no more problems with crossing the street. Is that wrong? Maybe. Effective? Try it yourself. When I’m building a scene as a writer, I probably use too much simile and metaphor, too much comparison, to burn my pictures into your head. It’s why that word is showing up as the biggest repeater. If I’m going to stick by my philosophy of emphasizing comparisons, I need to balance the word choice on that, not overuse it, and be careful not to mix one metaphor in the same paragraph with another. Good advice, right?

I notice in yellow the words, ‘just’ and ‘eyes’. Since I’m emphasizing the visuals, I do tend to describe facial expressions quite a bit. I want it to feel like a movie as you’re reading it. We process and can relate to human faces probably more than any other image. It’s why the words, ‘looked’ and ‘face’ are showing up in red as well. Because these are among my heavy hitters, I need to be careful not to overuse them. Honestly, I was shocked to see, ‘just’ there. I need to go digging on that one to see if it’s okay what I’m doing. My point here in this post isn’t that everything showing up as a high frequency word is a bad thing, just that it’s something to be aware of. Tells you where to go looking to see if it’s all right. Get me?

The two main characters are named, Misling and Ring. They’re showing up as heavy repeats as well, which makes sense. I would have thought Misling would have outpaced Ring, so that was a surprise to me. The storyline of the book is heavily influenced by events from a previous generation, so that’s possibly why you see, ‘old’ and ‘man’. When I saw the word, ‘back’ here, it made me curious. Apparently, in my zeal to make you see what I was writing, I spent some effort in describing ‘glances back’ and whatnot. Better watch that.

So that’s all I was going to suggest to you for this post, if you’re a guy that slings words for fun or cash. I would honestly never go back and edit something I’ve written because of something like this. It’s more like a personal growth thing for me to have yet another perspective on how I’m constructing things…to be aware of what I do so I can control it better.

I put this wordcloud together in R with the ‘tm’ and ‘wordcloud’ packages; but I believe you can do things like it easily with sites like, ‘wordle’. I’ve not used them myself. Give it a shot and see what your own cloud tells you. May surprise you!



One thought on “Using A Wordcloud To Examine How You Write

  1. Pingback: Using Text Analytics In Your Writing | grailrunner

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