Wordle used to be a web-based utility, a web toy that allowed you
to paste in a piece of writing to make a word cloud. The more
frequently a word appeared in your text, the bigger it appeared in the
word cloud. Yes, it’s a pretty utility, but also massively useful for a
writer. We all tend to have words that we overuse, but we don’t always
recognise them. Cut and paste your text into Wordle and your overused
words stand out like a rhinoceros in a flock of sheep. Frequently used
common words like ‘the’, ‘and’, or ‘but’ don’t show up, of course.
Wordle is a Java applet. Because web design and technology moves on,
the online Wordle web toy no longer works for most people, so the Wordle
folks have offered a desktop version for both Windows and Mac. You can
download it here http://www.wordle.net/. I’m running Win7pro and it works just fine for me.
Here’s an example from a story I’m working on. I have 18000 words so far.
I copied and pasted the whole story and this is the Wordle it produced.
It’s OK if a proper noun, your main character’s name for instance (Semmeri in this case), comes out as one of your biggest words, but as you can see, the rhinoceros in this flock of sheep is the word ‘back’. Cringing at my own foibles, I went through my piece, searching for the word ‘back’. In some cases I cut it completely without making a difference to the sentence.
Semmeri walked back up to the camp.
Semmeri walked up to the camp.
In other cases I could replace it with a better word.
After I’d gone through each iteration of the word ‘back’ my Wordle looked like this.
Now the rhino in the flock of sheep was the word ‘one.’ So I tamed that. My next Wordle looked like this.
I wasn’t too worried about the word ‘boy’ because one of my main
characters doesn’t have a name to begin with and is simply referred to
as ‘the boy’, so I checked ‘like’ next. I couldn’t reduce it too much,
but I tamed it, and this is my final Wordle.
Of course, you can easily use Wordle as writing displacement, so
don’t get obsessive. I don’t suggest using Wordle until you have a
substantial amount of finished words. If you’re working on a novel,
maybe use it after 20,000 words to see which of your words are tending
towards overuse. That way you can be aware as you’re writing. Then use
Wordle again at the end, when your book is finished. I suggest using it
after your content edit, but before your copy edit. It will help with
your final polish.
Jacey Bedford is a British writer of fantasy and science fiction who is published by DAW in the USA. She is hon, sec. of Milford SF writers and maintains this blog and the Milford website. You can catch up with her writing at http://www.jaceybedford.co.uk
Each time I sit down to put words to paper (literally or
figuratively), and each time I sit down to plan a chapter or a story, I am
haunted by the spectres of stories past, and sometimes I find that very
There are some stories I remember very well, in whole or in
part, and these stories form part of the foundation of my writing. What I
find interesting is that as much as I might remember the specifics of plots or
characters, I often don’t remember titles or authors, and even the notes I
might have made have come to be buried in all the other notes I make. For
a few of them, I’ve tried searches, almost always unsuccessful, though the act
of trying to search does help me revisit those parts I do remember.
Sometimes they come through because they contain an idea I
want to work through in a different way than the author, which then inevitably
leads to a discussion (for another day) of the oft-quoted aphorism that ‘Good artists
copy; great artists steal‘, which has an interestingly twisted
origin. And here, I can find my academic background coming through, where
a paper (mathematical, in my case) can be viewed as a story, with the author
saying, this is how far I’ve taken things, and I give this story to you the
reader, and I’m curious where you can take it from here.
Sometimes they come through because there is an element of
style that I can only view with awe. I’m sure we each have a list of
stories that we carry around in our heads, those stories that made us go WOW
the first time we read them, and every subsequent time. I suspect that
groups amongst us might have a few of these in common, but I like reading the
lists of other people’s WOW stories, because I always discover stories I hadn’t
And sometimes, we carry with us the stories that do
both. There is one in particular I remember, of a high level bureaucrat
on a newly colonized alien world, though not the base commander. By the
clever manipulation of the rules, he constructs a way of the indigenous aliens,
who are dying essentially of boredom and the lack of challenge, to steal a ship
so that they can find a new world. Moreover, it is the base commander’s
signature on the incremental orders, and the bureaucrat himself earns a
I spend a lot of my time navigating through bureaucracies
and I can’t help but admire our brave bureaucrat. I don’t remember the
title of this story, or its author, or even how long ago I read it. And
interestingly, if someone were to point me to an accessible copy of the story,
I’m not sure I would look it up. Would the actual story live up to the memory
I’ve constructed and I carry around with me? This has happened to me a
few rare times, reading something once and not wanting to read it even a second
And so, I go back to work, trying to craft something that
will carry the echoes of the things I’ve read but which nonetheless gives the
reader something nifty to hold one to and smile about.
Jim Anderson (available on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.
Terry Pratchett: 1999 A new Discworld novel from Terry
Pratchett is always a major publishing event. The series shows no sign of
faltering as its 24th novel, The Fifth Elephant, heads for the bookshops and – as
always – the bestseller lists. This time Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City
Watch visits sinister Uberwald (Discworld’s version of Transylvania) on a
diplomatic mission among scheming vampires, murderous werewolves, and
hot-headed dwarfs whose most sacred relic, the Scone of Stone, has just been
stolen…. For Amazon.co.uk, Terry Pratchett talked to David Langford about his
latest book – and others in the pipeline.
• Which aspect of The Fifth Elephant are you most pleased with?
Terry Pratchett: There’s always an element of surprise for
the author when a complex character moves through the plot. I liked the way
Vimes reacted to Uberwald and the way he’s desperate to work within the
framework of the law because he’s so afraid of what he might do if he didn’t. I
like Sam Vimes. He knows that whatever he does, the lords, kings and
politicians will run the show, yet he plods on nevertheless. But in truth I
enjoyed writing the Igors….
• Are you consciously exploring Discworld race/species relations in increasing depth, or did it just work out that way in the writing?
Terry Pratchett: It’s just been a case of sitting back and
thinking about what I’d already written. You know … we have this, and this,
so what follows?
• So although vampires have had a bad press in the series,
Vimes finally meets one he can grudgingly respect (and she’s on the wagon like
him). Werewolves have had it good because represented by the lovely Angua, and
now The Fifth Elephant shows the dark side. It’s also interesting that what
surely began as a throwaway line about the difficulty of telling dwarfs’ sexes
has built into a key factor in their society.
Terry Pratchett: It’s really been a case of applying to the
other races the same rules I’d apply to humans; it’s dumb to think in terms of
“good races” and “bad races”, and nail characteristics to them without
considering how these would work in a society. All races are “complex”.
• Would you say that Tolkien, for all his virtues, has been a bit of a bad thing here – imprinting fantasy with this default assumption of whole races of genetically programmed bad guys, like the orcs?
Terry Pratchett: Hmm. Does it start with Tolkien? All he was
doing was echoing a very definite human trait: classify them as orcs (or gooks,
slants, towelheads or whatever) and you can kill ’em easier, ’cos they ain’t
human…. But he certainly impressed on the public consciousness, against the
run of history, the idea of elves as Good Guys.
• A notion that was given a trouncing in your novel Lords and Ladies. Do you plan further rethinking of unloved Discworld minorities like the vampires?
Terry Pratchett: In the next book, currently known as The
Truth, I pick up one of the ideas expressed in The Fifth Elephant: that
vampires who successfully go “on the wagon”, and therefore free up a lot of
intellect which up until then has been concentrating on getting the next meal,
might be quite formidable creatures. But somewhat obsessive about whatever they
• Ten years or so ago, I seem to remember you muttering that you might soon move on from Discworld. Obviously you’re still finding it fruitful! Was it a matter of getting your second wind, or of consciously deciding to take more risks and push at the boundaries, or …?
Terry Pratchett: The second. And finding whole novels in
throwaway lines. Take Uberwald – a huge empire has crumbled, a lot of political
certainties have gone, there are new alliances … there are a lot of
resonances there which I didn’t realize existed when I put it on the Discworld
map. While I hope to do a non-Discworld fantasy in the near future, I know
there are more Disc novels, several of them with (mostly) an entirely new cast.
In The Truth, for example, the main characters are all new and the City Watch
are all background characters. This makes it fun, I think, for old readers – we
know how Vimes and Co. think, so seeing them from someone else’s perspective
gives a fresh twist.
• So there’s no end in sight?
Terry Pratchett: You know I’ve said I’ll never knowingly
write the last Discworld novel. But it has to evolve to keep going. If I’d
written 25 versions of The Light Fantastic by now, I’d be ready to slit my
• But some fantasy authors, whom we’d better not name, have done more or less exactly that. What would have really happened to you, I wonder, along that leg of the Trousers of Time?
Terry Pratchett: Hmm. Interesting. Maybe I’d have sold a few
more books, been considered a moderately-successful author, kept the day job
and by now would have had early retirement from National Power. Or something
even more weird may have happened.
• Can you tell me anything more about that next book you mentioned?
Terry Pratchett: So far it’s at charcoal-sketch level. But,
in short, The Truth deals with the opening of Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper,
whose reluctant editor has almost immediately to become an investigative
journalist (and what is the truth? Will you know it when you see it? And what
if it’s the wrong kind of truth?) There are no “printers’ devil” gags, but I’m
rather pleased with King of the Golden River; people will have to read the book
to find out what he does for a living….
• Was it difficult to shed all the much-repeated stuff about Discworld wizards’ implacable opposition to movable type?
Terry Pratchett: Not when Archchancellor Ridcully realizes
how much the engravers charge. As Vetinari says, history doesn’t flow, it jerks
forward (I quite like his vague strivings towards a New World Order). He gets
the priesthood on his side, too, by pointing out how much Good News is being
turned out by the presses of Omnia….
• Coming back to The Fifth Elephant, I enjoyed the impossible-crime mystery thread. Were you consciously nodding to Poe, John Dickson Carr, the whole detective tradition? Presumably there are nostalgic influences back there.
Terry Pratchett: Only insofar as it’s in the very air we
read. What I wanted to do was get Vimes involved in what is ultimately a
political crime, where he’s out of his depth (until, in his head, he can turn
it back into the kind of crime he can deal with). I liked the idea of a locked
room mystery where they left the door unlocked.
• Yes, Vimes spends a lot of time out of his depth and being relentlessly chased by werewolves. That chase sequence is nicely broken by a farcical Russian-drama interlude – but how many of your fans will get all the “Cherry Orchard” and “Uncle Vanya” allusions? Does it matter?
Terry Pratchett: No. Probably a lot of younger readers won’t
spot them, but so what? It’s still funny, I hope; it’s just that there’s two
levels. You can’t write a series like this with the idea that every single
reference must be caught by everyone, you just try to give people a sporting
chance. I’d bet, incidentally, that far more people have acquired a vague
shorthand idea about Russian drama (“gloomy people in big houses going on about
how much better things used to be”) than have ever sat through a Chekhov play.
• You’ve said in the past that the fans always ask for more appearance of the wizardly supercoward Rincewind: has he now been retired? Bearing in mind the extremes to which you keep pushing Vimes and Granny Weatherwax, do you think you’ll ever take the big step of killing off these or other long-running characters?
Terry Pratchett: In the next couple of years a major character
(that is to say, “has featured in the forefront of at least one novel”) will
die. I know this, because I’ve written it. But wait, ’t’will not be what you
expect…. Rincewind will probably be back, alas … it’s hard to make him more
than two-dimensional, though. I have not given a lot of thought to killing off
the seriously big characters, and it’s quite hard to see how you could kill
Granny. But I can see them gently retiring.
• Why “alas” to the thought of Rincewind’s return? You’re the master of Discworld, after all. Will the fans send you dead rats if you fail to give Rincewind another outing?
Terry Pratchett: No, I quite like him, and he’s useful, but
it’s hard to do a lot with him. He’s basically an observer. He’s shallow all
the way to the bottom…. He makes a useful appearance in The Last Hero, which
will be a book mightily illustrated by Paul Kidby – I mean seriously
illustrated, the art taking as much or more room as the text. I’ve written the
story, and the artwork I’ve already seen is very, very good.
• In your own view of Discworld cosmology, was there “really” a Fifth Elephant whose mighty fall from the sky caused the coveted Uberwald fat deposits, or do you have some other private theory of their formation?
Terry Pratchett: All tribal myths are true, for a certain
value of “truth”.
• Do you still manage to deal with all your fan mail?
Terry Pratchett: Ahahaha. Yes. It’s noticeable that the fan
mail has levelled out now and the fan e-mail has increased. Sign of the times,
• Have you any favourite anecdotes from your trip to Australia for the World SF Convention in September?
Terry Pratchett: It turned out that the parents of one of
the guides at a rainforest lodge in Far North Queensland were fans, and they
invited us to visit (which meant walking along the beach at low tide, keeping a
look out for crocs, because they live in a little valley otherwise accessible
only by boat or a long, long slog through the forest). Imagine a garden
containing every tropical fruit you can think of and some you can’t, a
waterfall cascading into a turtle-haunted pool behind the house, and a house
full of books. We drank passion-fruit wine and ate custard apples, and came
back by boat on a glassy sea while the stars were coming out. You couldn’t buy
it for quids.
• Many thanks, Terry … and I hope you survive the marathon Fifth Elephant autograph sessions without too many bruises.
David Langford. From Crosstalk. Ansible Editions. Kindle
Edition. Reprinted with permission.
Step 1 Be a voracious reader. Easy! During the school holidays I paid two visits a week to the local library. Once I had exhausted the possibilities of the children’s section I was able to borrow more using my father’s tickets. With them I was able to read H Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H G Wells and others ‘too advanced for children’.
Step 2 Discover SF. Also easy. Among the authors I borrowed were Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein and Wyndham. They, and many others, captured my imagination as no other genre did. I haunted the three bookshops in Edinburgh that had American imports and the yellow spines of DAW books began to dominate my collection. I even used my pocket money to subscribe to Astounding/Analog. Sadly the collection hasn’t survived
Step 3 Start thinking ‘What happened then?’ Not difficult. I often found myself dissatisfied with the ending of a book, particularly a happy-ever-after ending. I started imagining what the characters of my favourite stories did afterwards. I suppose it was a useful stage but it was very derivative and I’d pick up an idea from one book story and apply it to another. Nothing of this was ever written down (probably just as well).
Step 4 Realise authors are people too. A difficult step to take. It seemed to me that authors were on another plane of existence. I didn’t realise otherwise until I went to university and met my wife-to-be. It turned out she was sharing a flat with John Brunner’s sister. Although I never met John I was gobsmacked by the realisation that he was a real person, not some mythical semi-divinity.
Step 5 Marinade in ideas for years. I was stuck in this stage for far too long. Still reading. Still enjoying although I was, perhaps, getting more critical and I was becoming aware of plot holes (without knowing that’s what they were called), poor characterisation and continuity errors. It may not be a necessary step and, even if it is, I certainly wouldn’t recommend staying in it for as long as I did.
Step 6 Be stimulated. Hopefully something will provide a kick up the proverbials but it’s not something you can plan on. In my case it was one particular book. I’m grateful to it, but I’m not going to name it because it was one of the few I’ve ever abandoned in mid-read. It was so bad that I ended up saying something like ‘How did that rubbish ever get published? I could do better.’
Step 7 Do something about it. Having said that, I had to at least try. Unsurprisingly, my first efforts were just as bad and they will never see the light of day. I decided I had to learn how to write and went to an evening class and a weekend residential course. These were fun and I did learn from them. However, I soon realised my classmates and tutors were somewhat mystified by my genre bias.
Step 8 Do something else. One of my evening class tutors suggested finding a Writer’s Circle. I did, but didn’t stay long because I quickly realised that it was a support group and everyone’s work was ‘wonderful’. Even at that stage I realised that I wanted a critique group. Critters.org was recommended by someone and I gave it a try. I did get some useful critiques. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t comment on structure and characterisation but were obsessed with the correct placement of commas and ‘correcting’ my spelling even although I stated clearly in my submissions that I was using British English. My association with Critters didn’t last long.
Step 9 Keep trying. Shortly after retirement I discovered that Middlesex University was offering an MA in Creative Writing specialising in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I grabbed the chance and got a place on the course. Two years later I emerged with an MA, a partially finished novel (my dissertation piece) and a disheartening comment from one of my tutors who told me ‘I don’t think you’ll make it as an SF author’. Despite that I thought the course was worthwhile. I’ve kept in touch with some others from the course and we have an ongoing critique group.
Step 10 Try again. After the MA I started submitting short stories to various magazines, finished my novel and went looking for agents. My rejections kept piling up until, to my surprise, I had two acceptances within a month of each other. The first was for an anthology which never appeared as the publisher had a dispute with his printer – bummer. However, the second one did appear in an on-line magazine and I could, finally, call myself a published author.
Working hard at Milford
Step 11 Be patient. Being published meant I could attend Milford, which I did twice. I kept writing, kept submitting, and kept collecting rejections. I did have a few more successes with short stories but what I really wanted was to have a novel published. Then, at FantasyCon I heard that Elsewhen Press were having an open submission period. I sent them the novel that had started out as my dissertation piece. When the e-mail offering publication arrived I was so shocked I reread it innumerable times to make sure it still said the same. The Empty Throne, my first novel, is now out in both digital and print formats. I took great pleasure in handing a signed copy to my tutor with thanks for stimulating me with that negative comment.
Step 12 Keep writing. Now that I have ‘set my feet on Higher Ground’* I have to keep on going. I’m sure there are more rejections ahead but I want that feeling of achievement again.
* With apologies to Mr Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band
David M Allan was born and educated in Edinburgh. He became a radiologist and moved to England to work (and to help civilise the English). After working for the NHS for almost 40 years he retired and took up writing. His home is on a houseboat on the Thames.
It happened on a Sunday. March 5th, 2017. I remember it specifically because it was the last month of the first quarter of 2017, and I felt like the year had taken off and I was yet to. I had just moved into a new department in the third year of my job at a consulting firm, and had just gotten to that place in a new role where you start to see all the cracks. I splayed in front of the TV that weekend, asking myself how my writing, career and adulting were going to coexist.
The email from Jacey came then, a simple message that moved mountains.
Dear Suyi, it read. I’m delighted to tell you that you’ve been selected for the Milford Bursary in September. Enclosed is your official letter and a form to send back to us.
If there was ever a time I needed a shove, this was it. These were some fine folks, worlds away from mine, saying they had read what I had written and wanted to pay for me to come share more with them. It was acknowledgement; it was validation. It was: You’re one of us. Come have a seat at the table.
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I applied for paid vacation. I applied for a visa. I bought a plane ticket and warm clothes.
Suyi with Vaughan Stanger in the garden at Trigonos
This is the part I remember. From then on, everything becomes a blur. I remember things in slices: long flights, train rides along the coast, some dudebros at Bangor station sporting Hawaiian shirts in the biting cold and Vaughan remarking, “Some hardy souls right there.” Riding in the cab through pretty Nantlle, watching inclined sheep on the hills–lots of them. Trigonos, with its warm house and staff, a calming stream and a park bench set just so you can see Mount Snowdon when the clouds allow. Confectionery, coffee and tea-time bells. Chatting with Sue about her Nigerian affiliations. Trying to read a sundial with Val, Matt and Phil. A walk in the garden with Jackie. Talking martial arts with Mark. Jacey singing in the library. Dolly and I trying to play a fast one on Phil and me totally messing it up. Liz reading Tiff’s tarot cards. Steph showing me how to use a DSLR. Sara talking about Japanese manga. Terry guiding me through Caernarfon Castle. Exploring Caernarfon with Vaughan. The Milford group’s craving for meat. Drink, lots of it. Chocolate, lots of it. Laughter, lots of it.
I think the thing I remember most is leaving reinvigorated, with renewed purpose. Before I came, I was aching to double down where my writing was concerned, and I left with just the tools to do that. One year down the line, that decision took in and birthed something beautiful.
I sold the book I brought to Milford to Rebellion Publishing.
David Mogo, Godhunter was just a novella then. The first of fruits from Milford was the push I got, aided by my editor, to make it a novel. Just before I started that, Val and Tiff had written stellar references and offered golden advice for my MFA applications in December. Responses arrived in March 2018: I was joining the University of Arizona’s MFA in fiction.
I left my job right then and doubled down on writing David Mogo. May through July, I took the responses I got at Milford and revised and reworked and wrote. I wrote one or two stories and pieces for a couple of venues, and sealed many open chapters in my life (I got married in June), but I kept working at it. I left Lagos for Tucson in July, and I was still writing on the plane, up until a day before resumption at my new life. In November 2018, the book was announced.
The spirit of Milford never left. I don’t think it ever does. At my program now, when I sit with colleagues, share work and listen to responses, I remember Milford gave me my first truly pleasant workshop experience. When I stand in front of my students and talk to them about their writing, I remember how warm it was when I sat in the crit room at Trigonos and saw my opinion respected, saw criticism delivered even-handedly, even humorously. I remember large lunches and breakfasts, evenings at the library, writers gathering as people first. It has informed my dealings with fellow artists and colleagues since.
I will always carry Milford with me, I believe. To say my Trigonos experience in 2017 has contributed significantly to the growth, success and furtherance of my journey as a writer–not just technically, but holistically–would be putting it lightly. To anyone who ever gets a chance to attend, I say: Do it, despite whatever odds you face. There is always space for an extra spirt to carry with you; and for the times when you need it the most, the spirit of Milford never disappoints.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of speculative stories, usually featuring gods, starships, monsters, detectives, and everything in-between. His forthcoming novel, David Mogo, Godhunter, releases in July 2019. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark, Ozy, Omenana and other magazines and anthologies. He lives on the web at suyidavies.com, tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies, and is @suyidavies on Instagram and Facebook.
In 2017 I set myself a project. I am one of those people who view the buying of books, the owning and collecting of books, and the reading of books to be separate albeit connected pleasures. And there were books that had been on my shelves, asking for my attention for too long, and it had come time to pick them up and engage with them.
So I read Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. it was not what I expected but it’s also easy to see why; it is a vast and sprawling collection of interlinked stories and it has been a source for many people.
And this is one of the reasons I like to read. I have come to realize the extent to which reading a story is a more interesting, a more engaging and pleasurable experience, if I have an understanding of the literature and the context underlying the story. Reading your stories is more fun if I’ve read the stories you know, because those are the stories you’ve going to reference in your writing.
And we are story telling people and we are only now beginning to come to understand just how much of a story telling people we have always been. As I wrote elsewhere recently, I would love to know the stories the Neanderthal and the Denisovans and all of our other cousins told each other, sitting around the fires that created the bubbles against the dangers of the world.
This year, my reading project is the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut. I’m behind but I’ll make my way through. Why Vonnegut? The best answer I can give is, why not? He’s a good story teller and it’s interesting reading everything by a single author over a relatively short period of time, because it gives you the reader, me the reader, the opportunity to get a bit under their skin and examine how they tell their stories.
Epic of Gilgamesh
As we come to the end of 2018, the question then becomes, what is the reading project for 2019? And I know what it will be. I have always enjoyed Gilgamesh, the oldest written story we have as humans. Preserved by fortuitous accident, it is a story of epic proportions and the source of stories we all know, in a way we didn’t suspect.
And so why not, the oldest stories we’ve told each other. The Iliad and the Odyssey will be there. The Old Testament will be there, and stories from the countries we currently know as India and China and the rest of this vast globe of ours.
We all have projects. The things we want to do, short term and long term. So why not a reading project, taking some of those collected volumes calling to us from our shelves and working our way through them.
Jim Anderson (available on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.