My thesis as a cloud

Saturday January 03, 2009 @ 12:46 AM (UTC)

My friend Robert Peake, a thoughtful poet gifted in procrastination, recently turned in his MFA thesis and made word clouds of his critical essay and creative thesis (collection of poems, in his case), which you can see on his blog. (Clouds show each word at a size proportional to its number of uses in the text. Wordle defaults to removing dead-common words like ‘and’, and uses the 150 most used words unless you specify differently.) Of course I jumped at the chance to be the next to perform this act of procrastinatory genius, and plugged my opus into Wordle.

Here is my nearly-complete story collection/complete creative thesis, Sea Selves, in cloud form:
Thesis Wordle

I really liked the random font and other options Wordle chose, and the layout that came out first try, so this is exactly what Wordle pumped out, transformed only in color. I took all these shades from photos I’ve taken of the Pacific Ocean. (Pretentious? Moi?)

Here is my critical essay, Sea Change: Visions of the Ocean, which I tweaked a little more:
Essay Wordle

If for some reason you want to look closer at either, you can click through to the Flickr page and press the ‘all sizes’ button right above the image. My word clouds look very different from Robert’s, which is to be expected. Not only is my thesis prose, but mine is themed. I hope someone with a non-themed short story thesis tries it next to compare! There are a few words I’m slightly surprised by on my thesis word cloud, others I’m glad came through so strongly, and some which were a matter of course. And it’s interesting to see the names of characters from very different stories and worlds nestle so promiscuously together.

For fun, here is a wordle of Sea Selves with 1500 words rather than 150. I think it makes clear why 150 is the default:
Thesis Wordle with 1500 words.

In short, I hope Robert has started a fashion. This was fun, and I hope to see other MFAers follow suit.



Aha, of course character names would appear frequently in fiction. That makes sense. I wonder: do the relative sizes of the name correspond with whether these are major or minor characters?

Yes and no. The other factors are story length (Stella is from the longest tale, Idy the second, I believe — Paul is not a main character in the longest, but he is as big or bigger than Kaimana, who is the protagonist of her shorter story.) and third-person versus first. There are two main characters in “Salvage”, that longest story, but I can’t see the other’s name at all, because she is doing the telling.

Amount of dialogue figures in as well. And I have a few main characters without names!

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