I just finished reading a book by a terrific Scottish author. She’s someone I have met and like a lot. I really enjoyed her book, which is great, because there’s nothing more awkward than reading the work of someone you consider a friend and discovering you don’t like it. (In fact, one of my external readers no longer returns my emails: I have a sneaking suspicion he didn’t like the manuscript and doesn’t know how to tell me. Ouch.)
I have only one issue with this author’s writing, and that was that one word kept creeping into her prose over and over again.
The word was ‘wee.’ There were wee drinks, wee women, a wee shelter, wee schoolboys, wee cottage, wee babies, a wee moment, a wee walk, a wee dram, wee place, wee world … wee, wee, wee, wee, wee. (For some reason I kept thinking of the ‘squeal like a pig’ moment in Deliverance. But I digress…) In some cases, ‘wee’ was used as an adjective not just once, but two or three times on the same page. Needless to say, it became distracting in what was otherwise a really great read.
I do the same thing occasionally myself so I can’t be all that critical. I think we all do. It’s like one of those stupid songs that gets stuck in your head: certain words kind of stick in your mind as the solution to everything. Mine is the word ‘just’ which I continually use instead of ‘recently or only,’ as if I’m engaged in automatic writing and have no consciousness that I’m even doing it.
When I vet my work, I have to keep that latent tendency in mind, and be ruthless with the delete key whenever I find those words. It doesn’t mean eliminating all of them, just making sure they don’t take over. (You see – there it is: just making sure. Drat.)
How can you find out if you are over-using a certain word?
Try using www.wordle.com. It’s pretty amazing. You can paste in the entire text of your novel and see what words dominate. Wordle comes up with a collage of the words that most often pop up in your writing, giving them different colours and sizes and creating a kind of word cloud.
I’ve just done The King’s Indian, all 95,000 words of it. (Gahh – there it is again. just.)
To see a larger version of the thumbprint on the bottom of this post, click on it, or go to this link to see which words I’ve repeated the most. The word that shows up as the largest is the one that appears most often, and the next largest is the one used most frequently after that one. And so on and so on.
I’m pretty happy to see that the dominant word in The King’s Indian is Ramirez, which is the name of my main character, with Apiro, his sidekick, a close second. And when the words tied for third are ‘thought,’ ‘man,’ and ‘one,’ I’m pretty happy about that, too because they’re all neutrals and not likely to distract anyone from the narrative.
Wordle is a great tool to play with. Fun, and really useful. Enjoy!