We all have it. That word, phrase, name, expression ... things we use repetitively in our writing; things we mostly don't even notice doing; things we reach for instinctively as soon as we hit a creative block. Nobody is exempt from this, but once you know exactly what words and phrases you're overusing, it can be a lot easier to curb the habit. Copy editors can be a great help in this. But for people like myself, who have neither the drafted manuscript or the courage (yet!) to acquire a publisher and copy editor, java scripts like Wordle are an amazing tool.
I found out about Wordle last year, from Scott Westerfeld's blog. Basically, you copy and paste text into the box (or link to a feed), press create and see the most common words from said text displayed in a customisable text bubble, often in different fonts and colours. Copy and paste your entire manuscript into the box. Press create. Horror ensues.
All those words you thought you could get away with, the overused little phrase represented as separately occurring words, the name you constantly refer to, the verb or adjective you have to use. Everything displayed for you to ridicule, mock, and gasp at. Helpfully, the words also vary in size. The bigger the word, the more times you've used it. See the biggest words on the page? Those are your biggest challenge.
I did this for my first manuscript, called Resisting Wonderland. I'm a few chapters into the computer edits, and picked up some awful repetitive words during the paper edits. The amount of times I've underlined or written 'repetition' above a certain word was enough to drive me insane. I'm sure I once used the world 'finally' three times. In one paragraph. How anybody could do something finally three successive times I have no idea. It's flaws like these that are the easiest to catch. Then, there are the sneaky ones. The word you overuse, but have no idea that you overuse it until bam! it's right in front of you. Another helpful feature on the Wordle site is the word count of every single word in the text. As you can imagine, it’s a long list. From the main image, words like 'I', 'the', ‘a’, 'you', 'she', etc., are all cut out, so you don't have massive 'I's crowding up your image. Just names, nouns, verbs, adjectives, and any other overused word.
My Resisting Wonderland Wordle
The biggest word on my page is Elliot. He's the love interest for my MC. His name is used 634 times. Even in a 120,000 word manuscript (though that total will be significantly reduced by the time I've finished computer edits with the cuts I'm making), that still seems excessive. His brother's name, Ash, comes up second highest with 523. Considerably less, but probably too much to be logical.
Surprisingly, 'back' is the second largest word on the page. I'm sorry, but back? Why would I ever need to use this word 565 times? I don't care that Alice often looks 'back' to the past and the way the world was before it was destroyed. It's excessive.
Other common words include 'just', 'thought', asked', 'look', 'looked', 'around', 'like' and 'get'. All words that should be used in moderation, not hundreds of times in one text. 'Finally' comes in at 98, not nearly as high as I expected. But still way too much.
Although horrifying, seeing something like this is incredible useful. I want to print it and put it on my wall to remind myself that all these words are hence to be known as evil, and allowed at the barest minimum in my MS. Curbing the habit will be hard, but knowing your mistakes will make it much easier to correct them. I'd recommend Wordle to anybody for use during NaNo, or the aftermath, when you seriously begin to think about editing. It may just save you a lot of time in the future.
Copy editors – People who fix and correct syntactical structure in your MS for fluidity
MS – Manuscript
MC – Main Character
I think I overused italics in this post ...