Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weeding with Wordle

Last year I talked about weeding out words I overuse, and I'm still working on a replacement list for the one I lost. However, I discovered a neat trick when I began playing with Wordle, the ultracool online word cloud generator.

When you're editing a scene or chapter, open the Wordle Create Page and cut and past your text in the top box (right where it says paste in a bunch of text.) The resulting word cloud should look something like this (for a layout like this one, choose "Horizontal" under the Layout menu just above the generated wordcloud):

The words that show up in the cloud as the largest are the words you've repeated throughout the text you fed to Wordle. If one of those words is a character's name (like Jessa in mine) that's obviously not a weed word. On the other hand, if you see words that are the same size as door, around, saw and long in my example, those are words you've overused and may need to weed out.

Another thing you can do is use Wordle to generate some keywords from your story text to give you title ideas. Just do the same thing as above, but this time take the interesting/descriptive words and make a title idea list.

For this one, I'd probably start with words like Savannah, blue, sapphire, time, eyes, sweet, watch, sunrise, night and loved, play with them and see what appealed to me, like Savannah Blue or Nights in Sapphire.


  1. Oh very cool. I'm almost afraid to plug in my sample. It'll just be a thunderhead of shrugged, glanced, snorted, turned, gazed, breathed and ellipses.

  2. What a good idea! I love wordle to begin with - so any excuse to play with it ;)

  3. This is awesome - a great use of the cool Wordle tool. I especially like the title idea... Cheers!

  4. Anonymous5:52 AM

    I love Wordle - especially fun with sex scenes!

  5. Brilliant idea! Thank you! I always have a word or phrase I repeat often in an ms, but each book has a new word/phrase I get stuck in.

    This will save so much stress!

  6. Is there a limit to the amount of text one can upload to make a word cloud?

  7. Ha. I did this with the book I'm editing (the beauty of editing in Word) and it was fascinating to see what words besides character names were large. I see that the characters "look" quite a bit. We'll have to fix that.

    I love this idea for finding titles, especially for those hard-to-title books!

  8. Hmm, it looks neat, but if you read the FAQ, others can use your words if you save your image:

    " The images you create with Wordle are yours to use in any way you choose. You may print T-Shirts, business cards, brochures, what have you. On the other hand, when you place an image in the gallery, anyone else can use it too! So if you want to keep it to yourself, print it out without saving it.

    The images created by the Wordle application are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. "

  9. LOVE it for the title suggestions! On repetitive words though, I have to use the 'find and highlight' function in Word because I find myself playing with the word cloud and forgetting why I'm using it ;-)


  10. Margaret wrote: Is there a limit to the amount of text one can upload to make a word cloud?

    I don't think so. The most I've pasted into the box so far is the complete trext of a 60K novella, and it still worked. I think it was just a little bit slower to create the word cloud by maybe two or three seconds.

  11. Leah wrote: Hmm, it looks neat, but if you read the FAQ, others can use your words if you save your image

    Good point, thanks for mentioning it, Leah. I rarely save anything to the gallery; what I do is take a screen shot and then transfer the image to my photoshop progam and print out a hard copy.

  12. I really like the idea of using Wordle to help out with word choice. Doesn't hurt that it looks cool and sounds like fun, either.

  13. Anonymous9:31 PM

    My comment has nothing to do with your post...

    I say your novella available on Would you mind if we featured it on our site as the "free ebook of the week" next week?


  14. Trevas wrote: Would you mind if we featured it on our site as the "free ebook of the week" next week?

    I wouldn't mind at all, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to reach your readers.

  15. When you first posted about Wordle, that was the first thought that crossed my mind, and I tried to use it that way. For myself, though, I found that I had a hard time judging how much use of a word was too much. How big did a word have to be for me to go after it?

    I ended up moving on to two different ways to scan for overused words. First, I made a list based on the Self-Editing Boot Camp blog you linked to during Left Behind and Loving it. I highlighted every use of the words they suggested I be on the lookout for, and made a first pass just looking to see if I could eliminate them. Each time I came to a word, if I could find a better way of putting it I changed it, and if not I left it alone.

    After that, though, I used the tools at

    They have tools that will search through a selection of text and find repeated three word phrases and repeated four-word phrased, compare the frequency with which you use commonly overused words with the percentage with which those words are used in published commercial fiction, and highlight generic descriptions (like "good") or -ly words and compare the frequency of those with their frequency in published commercial fiction. You can use some of those tools for free, but I signed up for one of their cheaper memberships, which allows me to use the service on longer blocks of text, and opens up more tools to me. It was cheaper then than it apparently is now, but I consider it money well spent, for me at least. I've found problems in my writing I don't think I could possibly have found any other way. (In particular, it's not just about the repeated words, but the repeated phrases. I've discovered that I repeatedly use certain clunky constructions thanks to this. For instance, I have a tendency to say that a character "could see" this or "could see" that, instead of saying the character saw whatever.)

  16. I've been playing around with it for titles. LOVE it! Lots of fun :)

    For repeated words and phrases though, I do this:

    As long as you check 'match case' or 'find all words' (I think that's the one) it will go through and highlight all those words and phrases for you. It's easier for me that way, though I know people have all sorts of different ways to find those things.

  17. I love wordle! Great ideas. I created one for a scene I'm working on, and linked to your post.



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