This is a fun exercise that can give you a new appreciation for your favorite authors, teach you unique new words, and help you focus the style of your writing. To begin, choose a writer you’d like to emulate, and gather samples of their writing that you can copy and paste. You could find it in sample pages from their Amazon page, review quotes, or even just type it up yourself. A hint for searching — search for an unusual sentence in quotes.
For my example, I will use Edgar Allan Poe and I’ll include my vocabulary list for anyone hoping to capture his unfathomably spooky style.
Edgar Allan Poe is a great author for this project, because all of his writing is available online in the public domain. You could hone your samples to a particular book you’d like to emulate, but the more text you can input, the better. For these images I used the Fall of the House of Usher, but for my ultimate list I used a broad sampling of his work.
Once you’ve found enough samples, put them all into a word document and paste the contents into this tool: https://www.online-utility.org/english/filtered_word_frequency.jsp
This great utility makes a list of word frequencies but filters out the very common words like I, the, my, etc. I like to filter out as many words as possible, but you can experiment with the settings. I’ll do a future post about other fun uses for this tool. Here are the settings I use:
You should end up with something like this:
You will probably see the names of the main characters appear first, but after that you’ll see interesting tidbits. Maybe important locations like the ‘tarn’ and mansion from Usher. Note any interesting words and copy them into a document. Look up their meanings if you don’t know them and copy the definition. The words only used once are sometimes very intriguing and potent.
Once you’ve got a good list of words, you can alphabetize them to get a better look. I use this tool, personally: https://alphabetizer.flap.tv/
Go through your list, and strikeout or delete any words that are too odd, too specific, or just don’t fit your writing. Next, bold the particularly juicy or relevant ones. Now, try to fit as many of these words into your writing as possible! Don’t just shove them in hamfistedly; try to find natural points to use them, or replace a plain word with one of these vivid ones. I always need good synonyms for ‘old’ or ‘dark.’ Sometimes I’ve added new scenes as an excuse to work in a great word. (And I make sure they’re good scenes too, of course!) Since these are unusual and vivid words, try to use them only once per story.
Here’s my list for Poe:
Many of these are best suited to an old-fashioned story, but could be adapted for more modern gothics with some consideration.
I wouldn’t try to fit every single word into a story, but try to do as many as you can! You can always scale it back in a future edit. When you edit, make sure you’re using the words correctly, and that they fit your scene. I may post more vocabulary lists from my favorite authors in future posts. Have fun and be sure to save your vocabulary lists for future mining.
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