Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Word Counts

I discussed earlier the uses of going through each page of your draft and listing all of the adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and verbs, as well as a count of how many times each one appears. I've found it helpful to take your final list and highlight those words that appear more than two times. Work on those first, limiting yourself to one word each. Then move on to those two-timers and see if you can get them down to one.

I wanted to post some of the word counts I've found. There are some interesting ones...

On the first page of my draft I had:

Squirrel - 4
Driver - 3
Looked - 3
Held - 4

On Page Two:

Windows - 3
Discussion - 3

On Page Four:

Came - 4
Eyes - 3
Back - 3

On Page Five:

Again - 5
Back - 6
Before - 3
Away - 3
Down - 7
Never - 4
Out - 4
Up - 6

Imagine all of these words on ONE PAGE. They are not immediately apparent while reading, but if you think of all of the word possibilities that you missed by using "never" four times, or "up" six times, it's a real loss.

In Chapter Two, I encountered:

Bills - 4
Chair - 5
Door - 5
Desk - 4
Had - 7
Hand - 3
Mother - 5
Phone - 5
Went - 7

I noticed that in Chapter Three there were certainly less repeated words on the first page:

Bag - 3
Driver - 3
Would - 3

But all of these I managed to use only once or two times throughout the page. Pretend that you absolutely cannot mention something more than once - a whole realm of sentences will appear to you that incorporate what you wanted to say about an object or action, that you might not have thought of earlier without the word restriction. You start to think of a) why you mention the desk so many times, b) if you really need to.

Here are some additional counts in the pages of Chapter Three:

Dirt - 7
Disappeared - 3
Captor - 3
Body - 4
Light - 3
Fog - 4
Skin - 3

It's fascinating what we can do with words; how we tend to repeat the same ones over and over. When you look at each place where a word is repeated, new words and discoveries will without-a-doubt appear to you.

Happy Writing!


Rick Baker said...

I agree with this approach. In my WIP, I look for repeated words, cliches, sentence patterns, etc. It's amazing to find out how often I pick certain word choices. Later, I find myself consciously avoiding using some of my favorite words. So, the practice works.

I use a tool to do this, though. I think I would go nuts reviewing every chapter and performing line-by-line tallies of repeated words and phrases.

Vivien V. said...

There's an intimate connection involved with going through by hand, Rick, though I understand how it seems mind-numbing.

I like to see where the words are and how they were used, and note every occurrence. If a program just told me, I wouldn't be as able to edit. But that's just my personal taste.

Tia Nevitt said...

Interesting analysis! I question every adverb. I am not so draconian about adjectives. I have also experimented with eliminating gerunds and participles along with passive voice. It makes me think. No wonder I write so slow!

Merc said...

It's interesting, I did a search for "pain" in one novel (I was looking for a specific phrase to see if I had used it before) and while I didn't count, I noticed I used a few specific phrases with certain words quite a lot.

Sure, over a 70k draft, but even so, it feels like too much for me... eventually I'll be hunting for words I know I overuse (in one novel, it'll be swear words since my MC just will not shut up).

Thanks for the tips!