October 3, 2011

Redundancy

Every time we revise, polish (or just write) we tend to repeat ourselves. Writing a whole paragraph to elaborate on one thought can  reinforce something critical to the story, or it can gunk it up. 


             She admired his preference to swear in Russian over German. When compared to several of the other Slavic languages, which all sounded threatening when spoken in raised tones, German actually had a limited vocabulary of offensive words. Unlike Russian, which had so many they almost constituted another language and a separate dictionary was needed to name them all. Furthermore, the Russian word for a German person literally translated to, “Somebody who does not know how to speak.”

(Your sarcasm is welcome in the comments section, but please hold your thoughts for now…)

Unless the character is a linguist and this is a clue for a detective novel (which they’re not) there doesn’t need to be a long paragraph rambling about swearing in foreign languages.

Better:
As a connoisseur of vulgar remarks, she noted his preference to swear in Russian over German. 


Redundancy can be eliminated even from short paragraphs:

Jennifer started to cry. She sat on the floor, her head hung between her knees, and sobbed. The tears poured hot and bitter, searing down her cheeks like the dripping wax of a burning candle.


The two sentences following “Jennifer started to cry” say (show) the same thing.  When deciding what to cut and keep, I  try to go with the sentences that are most interesting.

Jennifer sat on the floor, her head between her knees. The tears poured, searing her cheeks like the dripping wax of a burning candle.

The important part to remember is that without redundancy, I wouldn’t have written the other sentences, the ones I ended up keeping. Editing for redundancy is a revision concern, and shouldn’t hinder you while you’re first drafting the novel. 


Other tips:

 It's common to state something the reader can clearly figure out from the text. Trimming the extraneous details can tighten up the prose and make it read smoother.

I darted to the window [and peeked out.] David was running toward the building, waving his hands above his head and yelling.

We can cut “and peeked out” from the sentence since it’s clear the character looks out of the window because the next sentence tells us what the character sees.

I slipped my hand into his, trusting him.

This one is not as easy to spot since it’s out of context, but the act of slipping her hand into his implies trust, so saying she trusts him is unnecessary.

Words can be redundant as well:

 Back - He eased [back] into his chair, hissing a sigh of exasperation.  
Up/down (when the direction is obvious)- He jumped [up] onto the porch. / He looked [down] at this feet.



5 comments:

  1. i'm beta reading a MS right now that is just full of redundancy. I'm doing a lot of cutting

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  2. The last ones you talk about are the ones I always find in my roughs, especially redundancy where a better verb would suffice. Really helpful post!

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  3. I'm guilty! My writing is wordy, because I want the reader to see exactly what I'm seeing. I'm getting better at it though....I hope.

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  4. Don't forget redundant dialogue tags.

    "But mom, I hate split pea soup." he whined.

    "Get out of the way!" he yelled.

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