I came across an interesting post by Silver Wordsmith about using word cloud tools to check on your most heavily used words while editing something.
I thought this could provide a helpful bit of insight into how I write, so I ran the latest draft of my novel through Word It Out and got this:
The obvious stand-out word here is ‘said’. I’m surprised it came out quite so large. I know there’s a lot of dialogue, and I mainly stick to ‘said’ in my dialogue tags (not much exclaiming, pleading, or wailing profusely), but it dwarfs the plot-relevant terms ‘magic’, ‘mage’ and ‘magecraft’ combined.
I’m not sure whether this is a problem or I should have excluded ‘said’ from consideration because it’s a functional sort of word, but it’s something to consider in the next round of editing.
Next up we’ve got ‘like’, ‘back’, ‘just’, and ‘through’.
I understand ‘like’ and ‘just’. They’re classic heavily-used words, so I’ll be sure to check that my imagery isn’t all ‘the thing was like another thing’, and perhaps prune some of the justs from narration. But I’ve used ‘back’ almost as much as I’ve used ‘said’, and I have no idea why. What with ‘back’ and ‘through’, it seems I ought to vary the way I describe characters going from one place to another more.
The rest of it is as expected: character names, words they say a lot, etc.
That there’s some surprises here shows how useful this could be. I didn’t have the objectivity to notice some of these things, and even an eagle-eyed reader wouldn’t necessarily recognise all the patterns among 1.9 Gatsbys of other words.
If you’re editing something, consider giving this a go.