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