18 October, 2012

Thousand-Word Things

This week I finished writing my novel, Thousand-Word Things. Allow me to introduce you to the nutshell version...

Written from multiple viewpoints, Thousand-Word Things is a story about art, lies and the normality of madness. Physics professor Rosemary Blunt is leading a double life, split between peaceful retirement on the Sussex coast and secret visits to her comatose husband in the next town. While still deciding whether he should live or die, the security of her secret is threatened by the arrival of an abstract artist who has his own reasons for not being entirely truthful about the past.

It's taken me a year to write this novel. I started last November with three short stories of mine which hadn't worked out as I'd wanted. I spent a month hacking them into some semblance of a coherent novel then wrote the first full draft at the beginning of 2012. It was so awful I nearly gave up there (turns out multiple viewpoint is very hard to write)! But here we are two further drafts down the line and I'm glad I persevered. 

This time last week - after I'd finished, but before I'd done my final read-through - Thousand-Word Things looked something like this:

I'm sure most of you will have seen word clouds before. They are a visual representation of the frequency of words in a text. So if one word is twice as big as another, it appears twice as often in the novel. This one was created using the amazing (and free!) Wordle.

My two main characters are obvious, but the other big words surprised me. Apparently I used 'know', 'like', 'back' and 'time' a lot in this novel. I'd made a word cloud of the previous draft, in which 'like' and 'just' had been ridiculously big, so I'd been very careful with them in this version. In the case of 'like', not careful enough.

So after my final read-through, I took each of these words and found every use of them, cutting the ones I didn't need. I eliminated a few 'know's, 'time's and 'back's but the real cutting came with the use of 'like'. It was quite a revelation to me how we use one little word in so many different contexts. But it's a revelation that can wait for another post. I'll end this one with a quote from early in the novel:

"Everybody always says that a picture paints a thousand words, but that’s not good enough, is it? I want to paint things that you can’t picture, that you can’t take a photograph of; things that you can’t ever describe – not really – not even in a thousand words.” - Ben; Thousand-Word Things.

Have you ever used word clouds to check your writing for over-used words? Which words do you use too much?


  1. Today once again I was reminded why I value your opinion Chloe. Making the time to check out your blog and count your followers ... led me to find out about Wordle.

    I had only ever seen 'word clouds' because I have it enabled at the bottom of my blog. At this point if any of your followers have a spare minute my blog is FREE. LOL.

    To answer your first question; no, I hadn't used the device for checking for overused words - until this afternoon.
    In answer to your second question; my overused word is 'looked'. I'm about to go through my 'Ten Days' manuscript and highlight every use of it and replace or delete it.

    'Ten Days' as you know is a romance so it wouldn't be unusual to see 'looked' in there regularly, but of 19 chapters ... 'looked' appears in the top seven words in every chapter.

    I can't thank you enough my friend. I'll be watching out for '1,000 Word Things' because I just know you'll get it accepted and published.

    1. God bless you Tom! I'm glad to have helped :)

  2. Good for you for sticking it out! Sounds like she's got some heavy decisions to make with her husband.

    Time is an interesting word to overuse. I'm curious about mine now, I'll have to do a check. I used word cloud programs to find stuff like this, but I've got another program I'm using now. Have you seen http://www.smart-edit.com/ ?

    It's a free program and I downloaded it and tried it. It not only gives you word counts of most-used words. But it gives you all your adverbs. Overused phrases. Cliches. I didn't think I was bad at adverbs, but after looking at this, I found many I could delete. I'd definitely recommend it.

    Oh. I just scrolled up and saw you were reading War and Peace. What do you think? I actually liked it. And fyi: I read the abridged 800 page version, not the full 1000 page version. It was quite a few years ago I read it though, but I remember liking it.

    1. FYI: I went through my manuscript tonight looking for 'time'. I got rid of 70. I hadn't realized how often I used it either, until I read your post and checked. And the thing was, they tended to be grouped together. So I'd use time 2-4 times within about 250 words.

      Some were totally unnecessary. Some could be replaced by other words. But having so many in close proximity wasn't a good thing. So thanks! :)

    2. You're welcome!

      I hadn't heard of that software but it sounds amazing - I'm going to check it out!

      I ame njoying W&P more than I expected. I'm reading the full version but 800 pages doens't sound very abridged! The war bits aren't so interesting, but the peace bits are a bit like a Russian Jane Austen. I'm just over halfway through now.x

  3. Oh I hadn't thought of the word cloud. I checked each chapter by hand and searched with ones I knew I overuse. Good idea though!

    Good luck with the novel - your blurb works well I think! Will you be using for your query? "While still deciding whether he should live or die," sentence jars a bit - not sure why. You must have found the viewpoints a mountain climb. I've never seen it mentioned first thing in a blurb - maybe something to look into too.

    Hope that wasn't to presumptuous - just thought an outsiders view might be helpful. Ignore me if not!

    1. I won't mention the viewpoints in my query letter, no. I mention it in the synopsis, where it can be a bit less abrupt. This was an exclusive blog version of blurb! But thank-you - it's good to have an opinion. Maybe I'll just cut the word 'while' altogether... Hmmmm...

  4. That's such a good idea, Chloe! I'd not seen anybody use word clouds outside of Facebook, where they're (occasionally) mildly amusing, but this looks like a genuinely useful application. I might give it a go.

    I suppose "like" probably slips in undetected when you use similies, and as you say there are different meanings for it that mean it doesn't feel as though you're repeating the word.

    1. Let me know how your word clouds look! I found mine surprising.

  5. Do word clouds look for punctuation marks as well? I know I tend to over-use dashes - and exclamations maarks!

  6. Replies
    1. I don't think wordle can look for punctuation marks, but there might be some software out there that does. Perhaps the software that Suzi mentions (in a previous comment) can help with that?

  7. CONGRATULATIONS! You've finished the draft. I find it a curious combination of achievement and anti-cimax, because the next stage of the author's journey is upon you. I'm guilty of overuse of the words 'just' and 'even'. Even now I just don't know why!

    Are you tempted to park Thousand-Word Things for a while and start something for November? And loving the quote from Ben.

    1. Thanks, Derek. That's the enthusiasm you want after a year of sitting along in a room looking at a screen! It has cheered me greatly. I suppose that's the key sentence in the book.

      In my secondd raft the word 'just' was huge. I've snuck my way round that my replacing witha few 'only's!

      That was the final draft of TWT (I still call it a draft even when I'm finished, because I know if it found a publisher I'd have to re-write it again for the editor!), so it has winged its way to a couple of agents already and the waiting game has started.

      Although TWT started as a NaNoWriMo, I don't think I can face starting another big project straight away in November.


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