Wordle as a tool and a toy

Monday, September 24, 2012


I think most people are familiar with "word clouds," but in case you're not here's this one:


It's a cloud for the steampunkish novel my agent is currently reading: Sing Down the Stars.

Now, the obvious draw of a word cloud is that it's fun. It's a quirky way to visualize a novel (or anything else involving words). But, aside from being a toy that can distract you when you're getting bored or burned out, it has some legitimate uses.

Total disclosure - I've removed three words from this cloud: "one," "like," and "back." It was after I'd deleted them that I realized how useful wordle could actually be. I took those words out because they were so much bigger than the rest of the text, meaning they were used much more often than the other "most common" words. In other words, those are my crutch words.When I figured that out was when I started comparing the size of different words in the cloud to see how much of the novel is dedicated to them.

One thing that jumps out at me is the incidence of the heroine's name ("Penn") in relation to that of the other characters. Since she's the one telling the story, her name shouldn't occur as often as others', because no one really thinks of their self in the third person (unless there are some other mental or social issues going on). So I was happy to note that her name is a little less than half the size of the other characters' names. Not only that, but it's interesting to see that the main secondary characters all came out to be approximately the same size. "Jermay," "Birch," "Winnie," "Klok" and "Nye" are equally important to the heroine at different times and for different reasons. It's nice to see that none of them overpower the other.

There are some interesting juxtapositions of words, too. They won't make any sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the story, but "never asked Klok enough" is a VERY telling sentence in context. As are "Warden took," "Warden turned," and "get behind something." The words are arranged at random based on selection for shape and how much of them you want vertical vs. horizontal (I usually pick a 50/50 split), but it's still kind of cool to see how they line up.

(I'm not sure why Warden is on there twice, unless the function that creates the cloud recognizes that one Warden is capitalized and one isn't. In this novel, "warden" is a title, equivalent to military rank, so a person is "Warden Nye" or "Warden Arcineaux," but they hold the rank of "warden," just like they were sergeants or lieutenants.)

Anyway, the short version of this long post is that word clouds are a quick way to see if what you deem important in your novel actually gets the lion's share of the attention. It allows you to quickly determine your crutch words, and gives you heads up that you may be using your MC's name a bit more often than is needed for a 1st person POV.

So, if you've never played with wordle before, here's THE LINK.

Have fun, and I leave with another cloud. This one for my super-sekrit MG WIP. Care to venture a guess as to what the MC's name is?  :-D

5 Chiming In:

Stefan Bachmann said...

MC's name is WARWICK, of course. ;)

Bryan Russell said...

Might make a nice office poster...

Josin L. McQuein said...

That was my fist thought, too. Sort of a celebration of finishing a novel!

Jessica Schley said...

Ooh, what a neat idea. I've known about wordle for years, but hadn't thought of it to look for my crutch words.

Laura W. said...

This looks very fun and useful! I've got to try it. :) I know people do this with their facebook posts, but using it on my wip sounds way more useful.

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