Friday, July 29, 2016

Department of Redundancy Department

A popular post from April 2010

by Annette Lyon

We all know that a rough draft is needs revisions. (That's why it's called rough, right?)

One area of revision that seems to elude many beginning writers is something that is quite easily fixed when it's pointed out to them.

So today, I'm talking about a few of those, most of which have some element of unneeded repetition (that alone is redundant).

Dead wood.
Watch for words that don't have a strong enough job and might as well be cut.

It's easy to slip in dead wood when you forget that your own voice can actually be a good thing, that there's no reason to create an elevated tone.

Elevated tones quite often slip into wordy and redundant passages that have more padding than substance because the writer thinks in the early stages that they sound cool. While the following example is made up, I see this kind of thing frequently:

They walked by foot until they came to a land known by the people living in the city of Bordon as Bordon City.

(Doesn't walking imply on foot? And why not have them simply walk to Bordon City? Because saying it's "known as the city of . . ." sounds cooler? Bleh.)

Cut that dead wood. Read aloud and mercilessly yank entire paragraphs if they're aren't pulling their weight. Rewrite so they're strong, they're purposeful, and they aren't repetitive.

Even a word or two can be redundant, like "the true fact" (facts by definition are true) or "the famous celebrity" (again, by definition, a celebrity IS famous). Those words are empty. Keep an eye out for small phrases like those that can slip through.

(Your delete key really can be your friend.)

The Um, Duh Factor
As with "walking on foot," avoid adding details that are obvious.

Seeing the sight,
(As opposed to what, seeing the taste? Also: he heard the sound and other variations.)

I noticed an open door to my left. The door was slightly ajar.
(We've already established that the door's as open.)

She nodded her head.
(I don't think there's anything else she can nod besides her head.)

He blinked his eyes.
(Unless he's some freak alien, eyes are the only thing he can blink. Just say he blinked.)

Repeated Sentence Structures . . . Especially Bad Ones
Be careful not to have the same sentence structure for too many sentences. Shake things up a bit. Intense passages do well with short, snappy sentences, while long ones will bog down the pace. On the flip side, when you're focused on an relationship or other emotional (but not anxious) moment, longer sentences can give a different feel. Experiment and play!

A commonly used structure is subject + action + object/preposition/other, such as:

Sam ate the apple on the porch.
Julie sat beside Sam.
Sam didn't share the apple with Julie.

Boring, no?

So shake it up. Vary the length of sentences, the order things are shared in.

NOTE: Try to keep events in chronological order so the reader can experience and feel them with the character. If you describe a character's reaction to an event before we learn of it, we can't sympathize.

For example, DON'T do this:

She gasped and screamed, feeling like her lungs were ready to burst when she saw the dead body.

Let us SEE the dead body first. Show it. Then we'll gasp and scream right along with your character. It's hard to evoke emotions in your reader when they don't know why they're supposed to feel a certain way.

One common (and horribly awkward) way of structuring a sentence is using a gerund phrase at the beginning. (Using an -ING verb phrase).

I won't say to NEVER use this structure, because it can work. But please, please, please, don't rely on it. Keep the use to a minimum and for a specific feel.

Here's what I mean:

Looking at the door, she reached for the knob. Opening the door, she saw who was on the other side. Smiling, she greeted the UPS man.

Why -ING openings don't usually work:
  • For starters, English doesn't sound natural like this. If your story doesn't sound natural to the reader, they'll put it down and find something else that does sound real.
  • It's easy to inadvertently describe two actions that you cannot do simultaneously. This pulls the reader right out because the structure implies that both are happening at the same time. ("Stepping out of the shower and grabbing her robe, she answered the door." Really? I bet the person on the other side got an eyeful.)
  • Finally, this structure simply looks amateurish. (What, you couldn't find a more powerful way of saying it? You had to rely on an -ING phrase? A hundred times?)

As usual, don't worry too much about these things in the drafting stage. Let your creative brain have fun in its sandbox. These are issues to address when playtime is over and the editor hat comes out of the drawer.

Your work really will outshine much of what's out there if you can avoid repeating yourself and saying the same thing more than once. Like being redundant Again and again. :-D


Amy said...

As always, the advice and easy explanations are awesome. I am SO glad I found this blog!!
One of these days, as soon as I can get the money, I'll have you guys edit one of my manuscripts.

Cheri Chesley said...

Great post. I had a thought today. I was thinking of calling myself a Bookoholic, and it made me wonder. Where did the "oholic" term come from? I mean, we've heard of alcoholics, sexoholics, etc.

Rebecca said...

Another post bookmarked. Very helpful, thanks!

Curtis said...

Very good post. I try to keep my writing as simple and as clear as possible. Your post illustrates that nicely.

Anonymous said...

I just read an ad that said to "call on phone if interested". It made me laugh, and think of you Annette! :)

Anna Maria Junus said...

Thank you so much for this blog.

I don't think that was redundant.