Monday, September 04, 2017

The Words We Use

Isn't technology amazing? I was fascinated by a recent article by Andrew Taylor (author of the best-selling The American Boy among many others) in The Author, the Society of Authors magazine, that quoted an American journalist, Ben Blatt, who had sampled a wide range of novels and data-crunched everything he found.

Apparently, every author uses one or more relatively rare words disproportionately often. Ray Bradbury's was 'cinnamon', Jane Austen's 'civility' (and, Andrew adds, 'John Updike's three favourite words were not ones you would care to discuss with young children over the breakfast table')

Cliches feature too, it seems. Blatt's list includes Salman Rushdie - 'the last straw': Zadie Smith - 'evil eye'; Donna Tartt - 'too good to be true'; Dan Brown - 'full circle'; E.L.James - 'words fail me.'

I wonder whether, if they saw this report, they were surprised? I tried to work out what my own were, but it's surprisingly difficult to isolate your own habits of style. I have certainly sometimes found myself thinking, if I use a slightly unusual phrase that seems to have an echo as I write it, 'Now, have I used that before?'' and once again thanks to the power of technology I can hit 'Find', check it out and remove a repetition if necessary. I'm not sure that a reader, who is by then on chapter seventeen when the first use was in chapter two, would actually notice it but I wouldn't leave it in case they did.

From a cursory flick through the last few chapters I've written, I see that 'bleak' is a favourite adjective. I shall have to ration the 'bleaks' in future, and perhaps I'll take to checking as part of the writing process.

Mind you, if 'civility' is good enough for Jane Austen, maybe 'bleak' is good enough for me!


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Apparently, I use apparently rather a lot. Oh dear! I much prefer "bleak" ;)

Sybil Johnson said...

very interesting. I notice in the first drafts of my books I have words or mannerisms of characters I use a lot. Interestingly enough, it changes from book to book. Some books my characters sigh a lot in the first draft. Or they shrug. Or they... you get the picture. But, as for final drafts, I'm not sure what I use from book to book. Would be interesting to figure that out.

Aline Templeton said...

Good to hear from you, Marianne. Looking forward to your first post!