A word of warning. This is a strange post. Today, I was having trouble revising a handful of pages. My words felt hesitant and lacked confidence. I was having a hard time muddling through some clunky prose. So I decided to put the pages through the Wordle Test in the hope that by cleaning up the language, I’d be able to revise the story more clearly.
To understand the exercise, first you must understand WORDLE. Wordle.net is an online site that will take the words in any given document (a book, a story, a letter, etc.) and turn them into an image. The more often you use a word, the bigger the word will appear in the image. Wordle is meant to be fun (and it is), but as I looked at my wordle images more closely, I noticed that I was using too many weak words too often. For instance, I am a writer who has a tendency to overuse adverbs (many writers think you should not use them at all). My Wordle images displayed my nervous ticks and words like “just” and “simply” were way too large.
That in mind, I developed what I think of as the Wordle Test. Here are the details:
First, I took the 25 problematic pages and plugged them into Wordle. After the first input, I arrived at the following image (I wish I could make it clearer, but this is as good as it gets. You can follow the link if you want to see it better. For this exercise to make sense at all, I highly recommend that you do.)
As you can see from the image, the word “way” is almost as large as “Jackie” (my novel’s main character). Through Microsoft Word, I discovered I had used “way” 44 times in 25 pages. Yikes! (To see how many times you use a word, hit Command-F while in your document and then check “Highlight all items found in”). In this manner, I tracked my course through the document and removed or changed as many of the “ways” (and its variants, anyway, always, etc) as possible. Now there are 19 (still a lot, but better). Then I copied and pasted the revised 25 pages back into Wordle and got this:
Here’s the words I noticed this time: 1.) “wanted” (used 18 times revised to 6 times) 2.) “much” (used 16 times revised to 5 times) 3.) “time” (used 22 times revised 7 times) 4.) “head” (used 18 times revised to 5 times). 5.) “life” (22 times revised to 11). 6.) “look” (28 times revised to 9). Just for perspective, if I’m using the same five words on almost every page of my manuscript, it is a problem. It means my language is lazy and stale. As I revised, I noticed most of these words appeared in the sentences I was having the most difficulty revising.
Once I made the above changes, I plugged the document into Wordle again and came up with this:
Now, of course, I’m avoiding the obvious. The other word I use a whole lot is the word “like” (used 48 times). My gut tells me that I’m overloading the pages with similes. Can I turn some of them to metaphors? Are any of them extraneous/distracting from the story. I tracked “like” through Word’s finder and was able to reduce the 48 to 28. Now my Wordle-filtered document looks like this:
I could take this even further, but I think I’ll stop there. The words that are largest are my characters’ names. For a third person narrative, this works well and the purpose was to help me get back into the document. Now its time to go back to the page.
An added bonus of this exercise is that the more often I’ve done it, the more I’ve caught my nervous writing ticks before they happen. For instance, the word I used to use a lot was “just.” After Wordling my way through “just,” I’ve come to understand that there are very rare occasions when the word “just” is needed. After today’s exercise, hopefully I’ll feel the same with the word “way.”
Anyway, give it a try and let me know if it works for you. Also, perhaps, let us know what your unnecessary words are.