Breaking down Burning Embers

Breaking down Burning Embers

Breaking down Burning Embers

Any writer will tell you that good writing involves using a varied vocabulary, but of course in a novel certain themes are paramount and we bring these to the fore by touching on them often.

A friend recommended that I try a word frequency checker as a fun exercise and one that can be insightful in developing writing. So I popped the text of my novel Burning Embers into one such program.

At the top of the list, unsurprisingly, is the (used 5,236 times), followed by her (2,949), which makes sense given that the protagonist, Coral, is female. Scanning down beyond the common words that mean little – of, and, at, with, for and so on – I was intrigued to see that the first noun that ranks is eyes. I’ve always found eyes a key part of what makes someone attractive and eye contact is essential in attraction, so I see why I use the word so often (369 times, in case you’re wondering).

Frequent verbs (all with over 100 inclusions) include like, feel, love, make, look and take – all romantically connected. Frequent nouns include voice, face, head, hand and body, reflecting, I think, the physical nature of a book on attraction and love. I was surprised to see woman appearing only 94 times against man’s 134 – but then I think Coral considers her man more than she considers her womanhood in the book.

As I scanned through the list some of the words made me smile: rosebud (26), pleasure (27), wild (27), hot (44), tears (36), fire (39). Taken out of context, categorised like this, they convey themes in the book.

But what of the bottom of the list? There were plenty of words with simply one mention – like fierceness and engulfing and dreamily. Some I looked at and loved and thought, I shall use that one more often in my next book. Some words I expected to see and did not: the English language has such a rich variety of words, and there are only so many a writer can weave into the tapestry of her book.

And then I discovered the phrase checker – a whole new level of frequencies to explore. I looked at three-word phrases. I’m sure you can guess what phrase I was most interested to see … and there it was, I love you, near the top of the list with 14 inclusions. And yet this was not by a long way The Most Used Phrase. That title goes to the not-so-poetic out of the (58 times). There were some interesting phrases at the top of the list: she did not (37) and she could not (28) denoting Coral’s willfulness and naivety; that she was and that he was side by side with 25 appearances; up at him (21), calling to mind the long, lingering looks; the edge of (20) – because the story pushes the main characters to the edge.

After ten minutes gazing down the list of three-word phrases, I found my mind attempting to connect them into meaningful verse – automatically rearranging them in the assumption that a poem was in place. So I decided to go with the flow, and this is the verse that emerged:

13 In the garden 
12 On the veranda 
12 On the beach 

10 She cried out
10 She could see
10 She could feel
10 Part of her
10 Of her body
10 In her mind
10 In his voice
10 In his eyes
11 In her eyes 
11 In his arms
11 At the end

9 I think I…
9 I want you…
9 I want to…
14 I love you 

7 Time went by
13 It had been
13 A few seconds
13 A long time

12 The golden fish
16 In the distance
1 The plaintive song
8 Of whispering palms.

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