#WritersResources: Wordcloud

 

Welcome to the first in a new series that we’re starting here at Fiction Can Be Fun.  We’ve been running a resources page for a while now and it seemed like a good time to a) give this a bit of a refresh and b) take a closer look at these resources and see what you might want to do with them.

The first one we’re going to take a look at is actually one that is a relatively recent addition and one that we became aware of thanks to the lovely @KMPohlcamp over on Twitter. (KM is the award winning author of Apricots and Wolfsbane, as well as being a Flight Controller for NASA; you can check out her blog here).

Cutting to the main feature, today we’re talking about WordClouds.  The idea of producing a picture based on the words used in a document is not a particularly new one.  (One wrinkle on this idea that you sometimes see in galleries is some kind of iconic image from a book which is formed from the text of that book).  The neat trick that KM pointed out though, was to use the frequency analysis to point out words that are being overused.  You’d expect the names of characters, for example, to be high on the list, but are there words that you rely on with out noticing?  The literary equivalent of the y’know, like, and um that fill conversations when people are trying to think of what to say next.

wordcloud_November Deadline

The most straight forward thing you can do is to just dump a load of text into the analyser and let it do it’s thing – which is what we did to get this image. The text we used comprises a little more than half of the manuscript of the novel that we’re working on, and that generates a word list that looks a bit like this:

nd_wordlist

Because I’m still getting used to this, I’m not sure if using ‘one’ 181 times in ~50,000 is too many, but something that is probably worth looking at it in the editing round… the word list goes all the way down to anything that is used two times or more.

What’s to like

The website is incredibly intuitive and straight-forward to use.  Even better, there is an amazing wizard that takes you through the steps involved, with direct links to the separate tools that you use to get to the end result.  There’s a great range of shapes to get you started…

nd_shapes

…and you can upload your own images should you want to.  There’s a lot of functionality to help you customise the wordcloud:

nd_squareND_carot

 

What’s not to like

It’s very easy to lose valuable writing time playing around with making the wordclouds!  In all seriousness, it’s hard to find anything to criticise.  There are a couple of things that don’t necessarily make 100% sense: there is a slider bar to make an adjustment, but it’s not really clear what it is changing.  I think that the slider changes the overall size of the words, which means that you can fit more into an available space, but it bugs me not knowing if that’s correct.  Despite how easy the tool is to use, I’d really like some kind of help, even if it’s just a rollover.

 

Let us know if you give this tool a go, and what you think of it – we’d be interested in what you create with it, and if you find it useful (or not).


© David Jesson, 2020

#secondthoughts: Mysteries & Thrillers

At the end of last year, I decided to do some themed reading but, rather than selecting a Christmas theme, I went for the wider option of wintry titles. Whilst browsing the wide range of titles available, I found myself being drawn to mysteries and thrillers – some old-fashioned, and some modern. A few of my choices proved to be exactly what I’d hoped, others were not, and while I put that down to the usual variances in individual books or in an author’s style of writing, I later read an article which led me down a a different path.

But let’s start at the beginning. As a young teen, I was brought up on thrillers – everything from police procedural in the form of Ed McBain, via the crime suspense works of John D Macdonald, to the adventure tales of Alastair McLean. Despite later developing a taste for literary fiction, I’m on record as being a lifelong fan of Dick Francis as well as the early works of Tom Clancy, and a mystery or a thriller remains one of the options I’d choose to read in-between (what I call a sorbet read).

More right less might (2)

More recently, I’ve been dipping into the works of the original mistresses of mystery writing – Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers – and initially they required a degree of adjustment on my part to accommodate old fashioned societal norms. But, somewhat to my surprise, I’ve developed a growing appreciation for the genre on my part. Why surprising? Well, because I’ve not really found modern mysteries or thrillers satisfying in quite the same way. Bestsellers such as Her Name was Rose, Friend Request, Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train from the popular genre known as psychological thrillers should be right up my street … but somehow weren’t. Even when really well written, with an interesting and believable plot, I ultimately still found them not fully satisfying due in large part to the lack of a central hero.

With the death of Dick Francis and the drift in quality of the later works of Tom Clancy (and his subsequent death), I’ve spent considerable time seeking out replacements, without finding any immediate winners. One example of this search is that despite finding a Scandi-noir TV production to be pleasant viewing, I’ve not been reliably gripped by the written form (with the exception of Iain Kelly’s 2017 A2Z Challenge which I’d love to see published).

So, what’s missing?

Time then to return to that article, for Crime Read’s Revising the Traditional Mystery for a 21st Century Audience gave me food for thought, in particular, the article’s subheading “Traditional mysteries used to be all about restoring the status quo. Now, they’re just about good people, striving.”  I spent considerable time analysing whether I was truly more comforted by the cosy society presented in the older mysteries than unsettled by the old-fashioned societal norms they depicted, as I’d initially believed … and, being honest, there was some evidence to support this view.

Something Himself and I watch regularly on TV is Midsomer Murders – set in the small villages of Oxfordshire, they’re full of bucolic images  – pretty cottages, village greens, country pubs and huge manor houses. It’s not challenging viewing, and its saving grace is that it gently takes the mick out of the two central detective characters. In my defence and to refute this possibility, I offer the fact that Himself finds television the ideal way to wind down at the end of the day, and I hugely prefer this option to his more usual rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ action/violence-fest choices. For while I’ll allow television viewing to be mindless, I’d be extremely unlikely to read the books upon which the show is based as my reading choices are more mindful than mindless.

Back to that question – why? What is it about the traditional mystery that I find more satisfying? It’s the second part of that subheading which is spot on “now they’re just about good people, striving.” Our heroes are now more nuanced and flawed, more ordinary and hardworking than brilliant and insightful. More tales now end with a crime being solved but without right being done and with the day not being saved. And while that’s reality, in a world containing too many leaders who embody might rather than right, there’s something reassuring about an old fashioned hero.

A friend recently told me that her psychotherapist had suggested she steer clear of world news due to her anxiety being at a level described as explosive. I must admit that I too, for some while, have been giving the news a fairly wide berth – not because I suffer from anxiety, but because I’d like to avoid adding it to the litany of troublesome issues I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I work hard to remain positive, which is helped by the belief that – even if it’s only in the fiction I read – there are heroes who are not just good people, but clever people, who won’t get hoodwinked by those who are not.


© Debra Carey, 2020

Welcome

Hello! Thanks for stopping by!

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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).

We started the blog because we wanted to practice writing stories, and to talk about what writing (and reading) means to us.  Over the last few years we’ve showcased a number of short stories of different lengths, genres, voices, and you can find these via the Index.

We run a monthly prompt for #FlashFiction (used here in both senses: a short story that can be read quickly, and one that is written within a short period of time).  We like to go with quirky prompts (again, have a look at the Index!), and we mix in a few photo-prompts together with one of our USPs, the Gutenberg Prompt – have a look out for these.  We’d love to get more people involved with these, so do spread the word.

We post every Sunday, following a regular schedule.  Our schedule revamp for 2021 is the addition of an #IndieSpotlight feature as part of the options for the 3rd and 4th Sundays. We’ll continue presenting our stories, and one of our other USPs, #SecondThoughts, but we’ll be adding some features on the items on our Resources page, together with a new series of articles written by guests on how their chosen genre is entwined with their normal life.

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the About page.  Or you can send us a message via the Contact page, or our Twitter handles (above).

Our (revised) regular schedule

1st Sunday #FF Prompt – submission deadline the next Sunday @ 8 am GMT
(or use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if the deadline is too tight)

2nd Sunday #FF stories

3rd and 4th Sundays

Either:

A #SecondThoughts piece.

Or:

A focus on a Resource for writers (or readers), or something else of writerly interest.

Or:

An #IndieSpotlight piece, where we feature the work of an indie author via a book review, by hosting a part of their pre- or post- publishing publicity – for example a cover reveal, or… well, this is a new feature, so we’re open to options.

Or:

Occasionally a short story from one or another of us.

Exactly what turns up will depend on what we’ve been doing, and what is going on in the wider world.

5th Sunday On the occasion when these occur, we’ll be posting our guests’ musings on the intersections between their life and their chosen genre. (Do get in touch if you’re interested in writing one yourself).  The post that kicked it all off is here.

#FuriousFiction – The Hunter

wIRe thE MoNEy tO THIS account

k33P Ur moUth z1pPed – TEll No 1

OR elS3

 

The note was a cliché, pure and simple, the latest in an attempt to blackmail my client, and followed the well-worn convention of text cut from a newspaper. The use of l33t-speak, replacing letters with numbers, was an evolution: the blackmailer considered themselves rather sophisticated and was attempting to prevent an analysis of the note from the perspective of the source of the text.  Mind you, if the black mailer was as smart as they thought they were, the newspapers used to produce this sequence of letters had been destroyed by now.

In practice, it didn’t matter.  One detail told me more than the blackmailer realised.  Perfect squares had been excised with a craft-knife rather than scissors.   It told me exactly who we were dealing with.

This blackmailer considered themselves to be the equal of Charles Augustus Milverton.  Following my wife’s suicide, I vowed to become Sherlock Holmes, to track them down.  They were a spider, sitting in a global web of agents and proxies.  I would need to become the same.  My wealth bankrolled digital knights, hunting down trolls and cyber-dragons, exposing them to the light.  We tracked down the individuals who made the world worse for their own benefit.  Most were easily dealt with by the authorities.

But there are those who will never face justice.  Those who are clever and cunning in their lairs.  Those for whom the evidence has been made to disappear.  How will these barbarians at the gate be brought to justice? I do not condone mob rule, even for those who prey on the weak and vulnerable. I took responsibility.

There is always a weak link.  They had given the account details, a Cayman Islands one, naturally, but the money didn’t stay there for long. An electronic handshake and it was off on a magical mystery tour.

It took 13 years, but every victim gave me another piece of information. My white-hat hackers finally tracked the blackguard to a sleepy English village, where he was playing at being the lord of the manor.  I tracked him from the cosy pub, where he had been spilling largesse into the eager hands and mouths of the locals.  I hunted him across his own estate, confronting him on a bridge.

There were 11 rounds in the clip of my custom-made pistol.  The rounds are rather special because – well, perhaps I won’t give that little bit of intelligence away.  Not just yet anyway.  As I say, 11 rounds, but only one was needed.   In the dark of the night, he staggered backwards and fell over the railing.

Beneath a crescent moon the body floated on the river and went over a weir.

© David Jesson, 2020


I submitted this story to the Australian Writer’s Centre monthly writing competition, #FuriousFiction.  The competition provides a prompt (typically much more intricate than the ones we offer here!), 55 hours to turn around a 500 word story, and AUD$500 as a prize.  This time round the prompt was to include an interpretation of five emojis (see below), to finish the story with an anagram of the first word, and to include the phrase “There were 11 ____ in the____”, to be completed as the writer sees fit.

The emojis to be included were:

emojis

New Year, new Fiction Can Be Fun

As we kick off 2020, we’d like to say a huge thank you to all those who’ve been following this blog over the last couple of years – your support, and in particular the feedback we’ve received is much appreciated.

When we started up the blog, we were looking to get into a good writing practice – we both respond well to a deadline, and are motivated by a commitment, even if it’s a virtual one.  We’ve had a really great time, and are extremely proud of the innovations that we’ve come up with.  The prompts based on Project Gutenberg titles feel particularly inspired!

But all good things come to an end…

Gotcha!  Only kidding – sort of… Since we set the blog up we’ve maintained a schedule of a prompt, our stories based on the prompt, another story from each of us each month and another of our innovations, the #secondthoughts ‘essays’.  We’ve been extremely lucky to get some contributions from various people along the way, but essentially all that writing has come down to us.

We’ve both seen some life changes over the last six months, and some of our priorities have changed a little bit.  We’re still looking forward to sharing our work through the blog, but now seems like a good opportunity to revise the schedule a little bit.

Instead of our responses to the #FlashFiction prompts being posted on the Friday after we set the prompt, from next month they’ll become a normal Sunday posting, which will mean that we won’t be posting other stories as frequently.  We’ll also be introducing a new range of reviews, focusing on the items that are on our resources page.

Hopefully you’ll still enjoy what we’ve got to say, and hopefully you’ll still feel like commenting!

David and Debs