(This post assumes you’re already using Scrivener. If you haven’t made the leap yet, check out my post “5 Reasons You Should Be Using Scrivener.”)
I can get a little analytical with my writing. It’s the tech nerd in me. So you can imagine my excitement when I found an online word frequency analyzer a few years back. I loved being able to break my story into data and look for interesting trends. The only bummer was that I had to cut and paste my entire story into a text box on a website. Call me paranoid, but I just don’t like the idea of inserting my unfinished work into the Internet.
And now I don’t have to, because I just discovered the Scrivener word frequency analyzer. Oh, joy of nerdy joys.
How to Use It
If you’re on a Mac, simply highlight the text you want to analyze. (Yes, I’m using some fake Latin text. Like I said, I hate putting my unfinished writing out on the web.) Then go to Project ->Text Statistics.
(From what I’ve heard, PCs have a slightly different setup. If you have any trouble, simply click the Help menu item and type in “text statistics.” That should point you in the right direction. Then maybe share a screen grab?)
You’ll get a pop-up window that looks something like this:
You may need to click the triangle in front of “Word Frequency” to unfold the data. Click on the column heading where it says “count” to sort words by frequency. Personally I like high to low.
At the top you will see words like “to” and “a.” There’s not much insight there, but scroll down a bit and things get a little more interesting.
Do Some Sleuthing
The draft I analyzed here is about 250 pages long (and yes, most of it is English). According to the analyzer, I used the word “were” more than once a page. There’s definitely room for improvement there. I also used the word “could” an awful lot. To me, this is a red flag that I’m still figuring things out on the page. I tend to use “could” when I’m not sure what my characters are doing. So in my editing, I can use the Find function to locate all those instances of “could” and see if maybe I need to dig a little deeper on my character development.
Then I scroll through looking for weak verbs. The word “see” jumps out with a frequency of 98. Again, in a draft of about 250 pages, that’s a lot of seeing. I bet I could find a better word to describe what my characters are doing for most of those. Maybe they’re peering, or spying, or understanding instead of just seeing.
I used the word “very” 51 times. Ug. That’s 51 instances of needing a better word. Guaranteed.
Don’t Obsess Over Word Frequency
It’s easy to get caught up in this kind of thing, so tread lightly.
While the data can be illuminating, you don’t need to address every word, wondering about the meaning of its frequency in your story. Simply scroll through looking for anything odd. If you have about 300 pages in your story, scroll to see what words come up about 300 times. Are they words that really should appear on pretty much every page? If not, you’ve got some work to do.
Have you used the word frequency counter? Did you find anything that surprised you?