For those who haven't encountered Wordle yet, it's an online service that takes your manuscript (or website or blog) and turns it into a graphic representation, where more frequently used words are drawn larger. Below is the Wordle for Byrne Risk.
Naturally, your character names are going to be most common (or at least they should, unless you're using a strange narrative form without proper pronouns), and common words like "the" and "and" are ignored.
You can quickly see that I like the word "like" and seem to spend a lot of time "look"ing at my character's "face" and "eyes." I also appear to think diminuatively, using the word "small" to describe everything from rodents to computer screens. It's one of my default descriptors, which is quite handy in spotting places that need a few well-placed details. Just make sure you don't swap one commonly used word ("tiny") for another ("small"). Why is everything in my world microscopic?
Identifying your "overused" words is an easy way to find your MS weaknesses. I take the top 20 or so overused words, do a search-and-replace to highlight them, and then go about attacking those yellow jacketed offenders and converting them to more descriptive phrases. Or simply deleting them, which is often easy to do.
ADVANCED NINJA WORDLE
Under the Language option, you can view your actual word counts. And copy and paste them into Excel for further torment. Once you sort your words by frequency, it becomes easier to pick out the top over-used words, but now you can also identify the under-used words.
This is where the Ninja part comes in: look at the bottom of that list and you will find hundreds of words that are only used once in your manuscript.
Awesome author Linda Sue Park mentioned in her workshop that every unique word in your manuscript should be used at least twice. This isn't for your colorful adjectives ("massive" "terrified") or your common words that just happen to be uncommon in your MS ("configurations" "lady") but the unique words that are part of your world-building ("lepur" "murinda"). Linda Sue's point was that if the word is important enough to be used once, then it should be important enough to your story to use twice. This way, you aren't just throwing off random words with no meaning to your reader.
This list of single-use-words is also great for finding ...
- unique spellings that somehow get past the spell check to create new and interestingly unique words ("blonde" which should be "blond")
- inadvertent variations on spelling the same word ("spin-tronic" and "spintronic")
- things you're pretty sure are a word, but you wouldn't want to hang your life on it ("proofed")
- a few words you didn't realize were in your MS, but you're rather proud of ("rapturous" "hewn")
The only flaw is that Wordle doesn't account for capitalization or plurals, so you may have used "lepur" twice, but only once was it capitalized.
Be prepared to spend some time on this, as I had over a 1000 words that I only used once. However, weeding through those thousand "flags" allowed me to find and correct several (potentially embarassing) mistakes before my MS was sent out to agents.
I recommend doing this kind of search only when you're very close to submitting, as a last and final check.