Monday, 30 March 2015

How not to publish No. 2 - Word Frequency.

This is a quick tip I discovered when writing Book 5, and should be useful to anyone who uses Microsoft Word. The find and replace function in MS Word [Edit > Find > Replace...] gives a count of the number of instances of a word within a document. If the word occurs less than 100 times, it will provide a list with each instance. By clicking on the word within the list you can jump back and forth and see what pages they occur on, and so check that said occurrences are evenly distributed within the book.

We want to use as varied a dictionary as possible when writing (the above paragraph notwithstanding). It avoids attracting a readers attention to some minor detail (say the coffee table the book’s on) when they should be focused on a major detail (say the Orwellian bookmark within said book).

Distribution of vocabulary is also important. Personally, I tend to latch onto a word I like the sound of and then overuse it. Slouched is one of my favourites. It’s laden with such significance that you can’t help but think of that ‘rough beast’. So, the above is a quick way of checking that the undead aren’t slouching too often, and that when they do, it’s heralding some impending peril.

Up until I discovered this MS Word function, I was using It’s a (paid) piece of software that will analyse your work, and provide an automated editing summary. It’s not perfect for fiction, and completely misses alliteration, but it is handy for checking how many consecutive sentences (or paragraphs) start with the same word. “She aimed. She fired. She missed.” <- that’s quite good. “She stopped. She aimed. She fired. She missed. She reloaded. etc. <- not so good.
It’ll also check the ratio of English to US English, and that your spellings are consistent.  This software also has a free online version.

There are other similar automated editing packages, but I’ve not used them, so can’t recommend them. I’m not affiliated with prowritingaid, nor with Microsoft. I have, however, wasted spent a lot of money on ‘how-to-write’ books, and found no mention of either the above two tips.