Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Editing: From the Clouds to the Weeds

Thanks to Kimber Chin for sharing her writing techniques.

A while back, I mentioned Wordle as a nifty "toy" for making word clouds. Thanks to a couple of Twitter posts, I decided to plug in my synopsis instead of just giving the tool my blog URL. The more often a word is used in the text you feed, the larger it will appear in the cloud.

The largest words are character names, which is good. A synopsis will focus on the characters. I also noticed that many of the dominant words were critical plot points. Also good.

(if you click on the image, you should be able to see an enlarged view)

On a whim, I decided to paste in Chapter One of my manuscript. I got a couple of surprises—

Two words that jumped out were "around" and "still." Checking the entire manuscript, there were 139 "arounds" and 91 "stills". I hadn't noticed them on my editing rounds.

So it was back to pulling weeds. I not only found that many of the "stills" weren't necessary, but that they were often part of entire sentences that weren't necessary. "Around" is also an oft-repeated word. Not sure how many of those I can delete. I looked for them in the book I was reading last night and found a lot there too. But since I didn't notice them until I started looking, I'm not too worried about that one.

The oversize "Looked" didn't surprise me. It's a word I use a lot, and I'll check that one again as well. However, we're visual creatures, and sometimes avoiding a common word is more awkward and intrusive than using it.

Common words might slide by a reader. The writer has to be more aware of overuse of the uncommon words, because they will hop off the page. As writers, we also fall into comfortable descriptive phrases.

In recent reads, I've noticed an author liked to use a character's forehead in description. It's fine for one character to have a high forehead, but if you use that description for another, it's likely to make the reader stop and notice the writing more than the character. Another author used the word "skate" for the way characters' hands moved along the other's body. After a couple of repeats, it was another hiccup on the read. In another book, characters were blowing their dialogue out on a sigh.

Do these things affect the story? No, of course not. And maybe these are things only other writers will notice. I know I'm aware of new and different ways to describe something, simply because I get tired of trying to find a new way to show it.

Hubby and I are volunteering at the International SWAT Roundup competition. It's my second year; his first. We work the concession stand but get to sneak out from time to time to watch what's going on. Hubby, I'm sure, will be checking out all the nifty toys in the vendor booth on his breaks. I'll be checking out all the hot SWAT cops. And, if things go well, I'll have reports and pictures. But for the next few days, I won't be around to respond to comments as rapidly as I like to.


Sassy Brit said...

An interesting post, Terry. Very enlightening thank you!

I find I use "looked" a lot.


Mona Risk said...

Terry, I've never heard of that Wordle cloud. Interesting. I may try it. I usually do a search and find for a list of words I know I have a tendency to overuse.

Terry Odell said...

Sassy - looked, gazed, glanced -- there aren't a whole lot of 'reasonable' synonyms.

Mona - I have my list - the word cloud showed some I hadn't been aware of using so much.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

My characters sigh a lot. I always have to go through and edit out all the sighing. :)

Have fun at the SWAT competition!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jess said...

very cool.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Terry,

I never heard of Wordle. Looks like a fun way to help edit a mss. Take lots of pictures of hot S.W.A.T cops.

Elena said...

Thank you - What a fun and accurate way to analyze word usage. I'm going to apply it to a paper I'm editing for a very writer who is still young enough to believe all his words are pearls beyond price. It will get my observations across without drama.

Enjoy the roundup - looking forward to the photos.

Carol Kilgore said...

Yummm . . . hot SWAT cops :)

I'm going to use wordl when I start to edit. Chapter by chapter.


Destiny Blaine said...

This is interesting and helpful, Terry. Thanks so much for sharing your information.


Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - mine nod too much.

Kathy, Elena & Carol hubby brought his Nikon, so there will be pictures. I just had my phone & a point and shoot - and I was busy working. But not sure if he was scoping the hotties. We'll be there tomorrow and Friday, so more ops.

Sam said...

This is a great tool! So... turns out that my characters shrug more often than Charlie Brown does when dancing.

Mary Ricksen said...

Enjoy your time with your DH!
thanks for the tips.

Terry Odell said...

Destiny, glad you found it helpful.

Sam - it's amazing what fresh "eyes" can see in our work.

Mary - with DH there too, I can't 'ogle' the way I did last year.

Kathy said...

Interesting verrrry interesting-lol I posted a bunch of mine and wow of course my characters' names popped out but so did a bunch of other words. This is a great way to tell what words you've overused.

Sheila Deeth said...

Hey, that looks really neat.

Google says I use "ago" too much.