Do you ever feel as though you keep reusing the same words in your writing? Whenever I notice this in my own writing, it annoys me. (I used the word “conflagration” in two consecutive sentences? Argh!)
Out of curiosity, I decided to generate a word cloud from all of the stories I’ve posted this year. Using this word cloud generator, I came up with the cloud shown below.
Words that are used more frequently are shown in a larger font. This cloud represent the top hundred or so words in my text, and the generator appears to exclude common English words such as pronouns.
There are a lot of basic color words in my writing:
Colors can be visually descriptive, but it looks like I might need to add some variety. This needn’t affect my word count in flash fiction: yellow could just as easily be mustard, lemon, dandelion, or butter, any of which provide a more specific shade of yellow in a single word. Red similarly has dozens of single-word variants: cherry, cranberry, wine, burgundy, watermelon, tomato, and others that have nothing to do with food.
If I need a descriptive color name, XKCD has compiled a list of common RGB colors, as named through a survey of its users. Of course, being XKCD, there are some rather unconventional color names:
(And that doesn’t include the submissions he excluded as spam.)
Parts of the Body
I also see a few body parts in the word cloud:
eyes. Some of these are debatable. A
foot, for example, is a common unit of measure, like the hogshead, the rod, the fathom, or the gill.
eyes also appear in various figures of speech: give him a hand, the heart of the matter, etc.
There aren’t that many alternative terms for parts of the body (with a few exceptions). A quick check of an online thesaurus turns up potential alternatives such as
Which one to choose would depend on usage.
Fist, for example, might connote anger or violence.
Metacarpus might be fitting in a sci-fi or medical context. And who can forget Charlton Heston’s immortal line from Planet of the Apes: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”
Do apes have paws?
Time and Time Again
Time shows up rather large in the middle of the cloud. Many other temporal words show up as well. Common adverbs
just all make appearances. So do
This may not be much of a problem. After all, Arthur C. Clarke published a rather famous novel whose title consisted entirely of those words. Still, these words are so vague that I probably should pay special attention when using them, to see whether I need to be more specific or more descriptive.
Never is a long time, after all. So is “3 hours” to the cable company.
How About You?
Do you find yourself using certain words to excess? How do you avoid repetition in your writing? Let me know in the comments.