Saturday, December 18, 2010

Analysis: Really? "Things"?

One thing "they" say, and by "they" I mean "someone else because I didn't make this up but I can't remember who just now," is that one way to improve your writing is to analyze it. What patterns do you fall back on? What words ("just," "okay," "only") do you overuse?

But looking with analytical eyes at your own writing is tricky.

In fact, revising is hard in general, especially when the hormones of creation are still pumping through your bloodstream.

It's easier to revise writing I do for work because I'm less attached to it. Still, it's easier and more productive to revise after sleeping. One night of sleep is often enough for writing I do for work. Some 90 nights of sleep is required before I can see flaws in my own creations.

My point is that revising is easier when you have tools. Like sleep, and/or time enough to create "new eyes."

So, back to those specific "old standby" words. First, a digression.

I'm currently reading a book by John Banville, one of two I got from the library when I had time to kill and found his name on my "try sometime" list.

I started with The Sea and found it useful to have a dictionary at hand while reading it. The narrator has an impressive vocabulary and his use of archaic or obscure "ten-dollar" words helped define his character. I learned that "crapulent" has a definition (related to debauchery or drunkenness) that's slightly different from the increasingly common definition (having the aura of crap, being full of metaphorical crap). Obviously, we're talking shades of meaning here, but Banville meant something specific when he used it, and I was glad to find the specifics.

Then I started on Shroud. And in the first few pages, Banville again has his narrator using words like "crapulent." And I'm wondering if his narrators are different from each other, which then leads me to wonder if they're not all, more or less, Banville.

In any case, I wondered whether Banville is overly attached to "crapulent." Much like one of my favourite mass market novelists always has protagonists "forking up" food, usually breakfasts that include waffles.

Recently I was looking at wordles ( I'd made of the g-kids' names and it occurred to me that using wordle to analyze text would be a fun way of finding those words that, perhaps, uh, over-appear.

So I used a blog post--the one about the buzzing flies. And the most common word was...drumroll...


Not "flies." Not even "bzz." "Thing."

The Wordle was set to ignore common English words, which perhaps spared me from writing mostly about "and" or "the," I'm guessing.

But still. "Thing"?

The site is pretty cool. If I'd been motivated ("thing"??) I could have saved the wordle and done a screen capture and printed it here. I wasn't that motivated.

Okay, so finding the results might still not be all that fun. But they could be useful, and having a wordle would be funner than not having one.

A tool! To have fun with! Happy holidays, indeed.