Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Words on Wednesday: Words in Your Book

What was it Mark Twain said? "The difference between a word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

I love words, and I notice words. Especially when they're used really well in poems or novels and the individual words capture (or create) the essence of the whole.

I thought I'd try an experiment with the book I've been reading, and see if I could come up with a good way to evaluate the vocabulary of the book. I wanted to do something random, to make it a reasonably fair test, so I picked a number out of thin air (16) and decided to open the book to a random spot and for 20 consecutive pages, write down the 16th word.

It quickly became clear that this test was going to fail. In just 7 pages I had:
I, around, send, own, or, much, waited...


Then I tried the first word of the 16th line on each page. If there were fewer than 16 lines, I used the last line on the page. Again, this was less than thrilling:
word, disturbed, speaking, do, a, I'd, this...

The problem with these first two "random-choice" methods is that they didn't show what the book was like at all. So much of really good prose is made up of words like "the" and "it" and "a" that this kind of random list is bound to be made up more of those words than anything else.

To give the author a fighting chance, I tried picking my favorite word on the 16th line for each page. This was better:
Violet, disturbed, chess, laugh, meandered, better, caught, head, laughed, knife, Miltenberger, contain, signs, acres, gingham, think, waved, stray, sweaty, began

But the best results were when I picked out my favorite word (one per page) for each of the 20 pages. Here they are:
velvety, meager, prowess, fret, cowlick, wriggled, waggled, tightrope, sarsparilla, mushy, scrabble, ornery, Violet, awkward, gingham, chum, crooked (the verb, not the adjective), two-step, princess, Excelsior

The book I chose was Hattie Big Sky, and this last list of words feels like a perfect fit for the feeling of reading the book. What will you find in your book?

1 comment:

featherbee said...

What a neat idea!