Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'd like to have a Wordle with you

You're looking at a "word cloud" for the last month's posts here at The Quivering Pen, as brought to you by Wordle, a fun new internet distraction I recently discovered.  Wordle is marvelously simple: you cut-and-paste text into a text box, or type in a URL (as I did for The Quivering Pen's RSS feed).  The website then spits out a cluster of words, giving greater prominence to those that appear more frequently in the source text. Wordle allows you to tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

Here, for instance, is what happened when I plugged in the text to Flannery O'Connor's short story "Good Country People" (click the images in order to read all the words the clouds):

When I pasted all 97,366 words of Fobbit into the Wordle machine, here's what resulted:

I was a little disappointed to find the word "like" had been used so frequently.  I guess I'm a metaphor kind of guy....but even so, it's something I'll need to guard against in future novels (like a vampire killer standing on a castle turret scanning the sky for bats).  I'm not too surprised to see "Gooding," "Abe," "Shrinkle," "Harkleroad," and "Duret" show up--they're the main characters of Fobbit.  But I am surprised the f-bomb and all its variations didn't appear in this word cloud.  In my mind, Fobbit is heavy on the profanity and I'd assumed it was peppered with what Norman Mailer once so craftily called "fug."  Apparently not.  The only four-letter cursing in this cloud is the tiny "shit" (top center, just to the right of "Shrinkle").  This is one way Wordle is effective and valuable, showing writers language patterns and repetitions in their work, against all our assumptions of what we think is in the manuscript.  Wordle, it turns out, knows our stories better than we do.


  1. Maybe they screen out the f-bombs?

  2. Lydia,
    I don't think they do. There's an FAQ at the site which says they don't censor Wordles.
    Update: I just typed an obscenity-laced sentence into the cloud machine and all the effin' f-bombs were indeed there.

  3. I did a word cloud for the first ten pages of my wip, and a rather large f-bomb appeared front and center. (I have an 80-year-old character who's dissing his retirement home.)