A while ago, while traversing the interwebs, I stumbled across a site called Wordle. For those who aren’t familiar with it (and the other similar sites), it generates a ‘word cloud’ based on text you enter into the box, with more frequently used words appearing larger than less frequently used ones. You can also choose different fonts, colour schemes and layouts for the clouds. If you’re bored and in the mood to mess around with words, these word cloud generators are quite fun and they can actually turn out some visually appealing images. Below is a word cloud I created based on the prologue for my novella, Dark and Silent Waters:
While messing around with Wordle, I remembered when we’d looked at other similar graphics in a subject on Information Visualisation in my IT/Multimedia course at uni. One of the first things we learned in the subject was that visualisations have to be more than just a pretty collection of words or colours or graphics. They have to tell a story and be meaningful to those who use them. So, naturally, I started wondering if word clouds could also be used as a tool for visualisation, especially for writers (this is what I do with my spare time. No wonder I have no life…).
Looking at my word cloud, I decided it is actually a good visualisation tool for writers to see if they have used a certain word of phrase too many times. For instance, the first time I did one of these word clouds for my prologue, I discovered I’d gone way overboard with the words ‘eyes’ and ‘gazing’ (I’ve edited it since then, but a few of them are still present in this new cloud I’ve created). Though it’s unavoidable that some words/phrases are commonly used anyway, visualisations like this can help writers avoid too much repetition in their work. I suppose it can also be helpful for discovering any ‘themes’ that appear to be popping up a lot in the piece; whether these themes are occuring by accident or are being deliberately planted by the writer, it can help them strengthen the themes they want to follow or weed out the ones that don’t belong.
And they’re a fun way to procrastinate.