Two Good Tools for Writers

I had hoped to talk about four writing tools today, but only have time for two. It’s Sunday at 4:00 and I want to get my post out. It’s the dreaded Daylight Savings Time day when we get screwed out of an hour of the weekend although it will be nice to have the hour of light at the end of the day. I wrote a post about DST on the Boomers and Books site, and am reminded of what the American Indian said:

Only the government would believe that you could cut one foot off the top of a blanket, sew it onto the bottom, and have a longer blanket.

But on to the writing tools.

The Cliché Cleaner! I had written a post a few months back about The Cliché Finder which had obvious limitations. It must be a common problem because this post is still being read, and recently, a woman posted a comment which said she was an editor and it was a big part of her day just spotting clichés and she was in the market for something that could cut down on the time spent. I said I hadn’t heard of anything better and she responded that she’d found The Cliché Cleaner. I investigated. What a great tool it is.

I first downloaded the sample and after one try, decided to buy it. It’s only $12.95 which doesn’t “break the bank” (bet that’s a cliché, what do you think?). This tool examines a text file and matches it against more than 16,000 clichés and their variations.

But wait! There’s more. And this is even better, it counts the number of repeating phrases. How many times have you been reading along and you start to think, I’ve read that before? And I’m sure getting tired of reading the same words over and over. Now this problem can be fixed.

The Help File recommends that the files to be examined shouldn’t be too large, and a complete novel should be broken up into four or five chapters per chunk. This seemed like a pretty severe limitation. If it has to be broken up then the results of each file will have to be manually compared to the results of every other file. Didn’t like the sounds of that, so I thought I’d give it a try using the complete file. What could possibly go wrong? I’d run out of memory or some equally horrific computer event and I’d have to reboot. Big deal. It worked fine, took only a few seconds, so I’m not sure why it was suggested that the files be smaller. 

The software opens up a response window once it’s through searching and creates a very nice report, sortable in a number of different ways. I chose to sort on number of instances found, so my list will be ordered in such a way that I can address them from the most to the least problematic.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is there is no way (that I can see) to save the report so it can be accessed later. It can’t even be swiped to copy/paste and this is because of other functionality that it has, which I didn’t care about, that is, being able to click on the instance of the phrase and be redirected to the portion of text where it is found. It’s a TEXT file, not a Word document, so if I made changes to a text file, all my formatting is gone. This isn’t good at all. I don’t want to make changes to that file, I want a nice list of my offenders so I can go back into Word and do the corrections there.

Not possible. Because of a certain issue which I will explain in greater detail, I found myself writing the phrases down. Yes, all of them, and there were quite a few phrases too. I was forced to take pen in hand, and while I was pleasantly surprised to note that I am still able to pick up the pen and put it to a piece of paper and form words and phrases in cursive writing that are legible, still it seems rather like going back to the nineties.

It is a terrible option and I couldn’t figure out a way of bypassing the manual written list because when I tried to examine the report and type directly into another text editor, I had problems. When the cliché report window is clicked on (to move down the list) the window where you are typing disappears. This is a computer thing, having to do with which window has focus and response windows and a few other computer-related anomalies that no one needs to understand, other than it is hellishly annoying.

With the manual labor behind me, it took almost no time to type the phrases in.

The Cliché Cleaner, even with its faults, is better than anything else I’ve found. It is efficient (yet humbling) to see so many problems displayed in a list.  

But now I that I have it, I can go through each one, search for it in my Word document and decide what to do about it.

Four stars (out of five) for The Cliché Cleaner, and if I could print or save or copy/paste the report, it would have been five. But zero stars out of five for Customer Service because when I wrote (twice) and asked questions I have been ignored.  

Wordle! The Wordle website describes this writing tool as a “toy” and it is fun to play with but it provides some valuable insight into repeated words. It creates a “Word Cloud” and the words that appear more frequently are given greater prominence. Once the cloud is created by Wordle, adjusting the font and color will change its appearance.

I have a problem with word repetition and usually have a lot of editing to do to remove extraneous words. Words like but, that, just, so. Meaningless, throw-away words. Using too many of them says “amateur”. Of course, sometimes, these words are necessary. Wordle will point out if certain words appear more often than would be expected.

Then tedious it is, but doing a Find in word on the word in question is the only way to look at each instance of it to determine if it can be removed or not.

Wordle cloud for Perigee Moon:

The Cliché Finder

I submitted an entry for the Fourth Annual Life Lessons Essay contest from Real Simple magazine, which is about the only mag I read. I like the format of it, the non-busy pages, the photography, the good ideas.

The rules for submission are, maximum of 1,500 words and you are given a topic to write about. As I was preparing to send off my entry, I reread the website and there is a section with helpful suggestions, and one is “don’t use clichés”. I did an earlier post on clichés. Not too unusual, many blogs have done the same thing. Clichés are a drag. I can really spot them now, and unless they are deliberate, or twisted in some way, I tend to quit reading when I find one.

It occurred to me that a really neat idea would be to develop a little webpage which a user could paste his text into and check that text against a database of common clichés. But wait! It has already been done. The Cliché Finder will check your writing and highlight offending phrases. Of course, who knows how current, or comprehensive that database is? How often is it updated? Anyway, it’s a good idea.

This is what happened when I clicked the button:

An  Unhandled Exception. As an ex-IT person, I can tell you this is not a good thing. This is sloppy programming. Obviously it didn’t like something about my text but instead of telling me what was wrong, it just croaked. I experimented to find out what the problem was. I put in one paragraph and it worked. I put in the next paragraph and it didn’t work.

The difference? It did not like the apostrophe in a contraction. Don’t, wouldn’t, can’t, didn’t, etc. Really? That seems pretty basic and is something the programmer should fix. Also, further down, I noticed it didn’t like quotes either. So the phrase “back home” (quotes included) caused it to blow up. There could be other things that offend the Cliché Finder too, but I didn’t spot them.

If this happens, I wonder how good the tool is. But it is a very good idea. Maybe some sort of interactive site where users could comment on what problems were found, and also add entries to the database as needed.

And guess what? My entry did not point out any clichés, when I removed all the apostrophes and quote marks. Cool.

Cliches – Four Rules About Them

A cliché is like a bad apple.

How can an author tell if his work is cliché-ridden, with the obvious phrases and also the lesser known culprits? There are a number of websites that list them, I liked this one.

In the following paragraph, I have included several of the more blatant offenders, and some others maybe a bit more obscure, but just as annoying.

For all intents and purposes, clichés should be avoided at all cost. Your readers weren’t born yesterday and by and large, most readers know the score, and clichés won’t pass the sniff test. It’s the same old, same old. Been there, done that. You’ll bore them to tears. If you must use a cliché, take the plunge and mix it up. Twists and turns on clichés can be your ticket to success. Let this be your wakeup call. Overuse of clichés is a very real concern. You don’t want readers thinking it’s the same old story, a broken record. Instead, think outside the box. Time and time again, art imitates life. What’s not to like, about understated elegance? To my way of thinking, it’s a perfect storm. Your readers will get your drift, but your writing will be fresh as a daisy. It’s easier said than done, I know, but hang in there!

Wow. That was painful. I count 28.

For all intents and purposes, at all cost, born yesterday, by and large, know the score, pass the sniff test, same old same old, been there done that, bore them to tears, take the plunge, mix it up, twists and turns, ticket to success, wakeup call, a very real concern, same old story, broken record, think outside the box, time and time again, art imitates life, what’s not to like, understated elegance, to my way of thinking, a perfect storm, get your drift, fresh as a daisy, easier said than done, hang in there.

Did I miss any?

There is software available which allows you to insert your book text and it will count the number of clichés and overused phrases it finds. This paragraph would have probably exceeded its capacity, an “out of bounds index” or “too many inputs” or “an unknown error has occurred”. I especially like that last one.

Rule for cliché use (according to me):

1. If you must use a cliché, change it around, make it a little different. Recently I used the phrase “that shoe is on the wrong foot”. I hoped the reader would realize that the cliché I was imitating was “if the shoe were on the other foot”, which means if the situation were reversed. In this context, during an argument between a wife and her husband, she means to say, “You’ve got it wrong. The situation is reversed.”

2. Recognize that it is a cliché and make a reference to it. In one case, when a person of dubious authority refers to a bunch of other people as “losers”, one of the other people says, “Isn’t that the pot and the kettle thing? Being called a loser by her?” The speaker knows it is a cliché and refers to that, thus implying that he is above saying something trite.

3. Sometimes it seems good to use clichés in dialogue. People use them, it’s the way we normally speak. In a moment of anger, when a woman is being accused of not being committed enough (and this is after forty bad years), she says, “When does it become okay to throw in the towel? On my death bed?” I think it is appropriate to use this here. She was angry, it expresses what she felt at the moment. If I had avoided it, I’m not sure it would have been as effective.

4. If there is any doubt whether to use a cliché or not, don’t.

I’d like to leave you with this thought:

With clichés, when push comes to shove, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, because at the end of the day you are never quite sure whether to go with the flow or take the ball and run with it.

Sorry.