Monday, May 17, 2010

Let me say it again, kill redundancy.

On a line-edit, few things bug me more than misused homophones. Redundant words are one of them.

Let me put it out there that I like repetition - when used right, the emphasis is fantastic. In dialog, it reveals a lot about a character, depending on context.

I love arguments where one person stubbornly repeats their position. Or conversation where Bob reiterates a point that Andrew just made thus revealing that he wasn't listening to Andrew in the first place.

"The line's going to be long, so we should go early."
"I don't really know what time we should show up, but the last time I went, there was a long line."

Doesn't that make you want to smack Bob and bless poor, patient Andrew for putting up with Bob?

Redundancy is different.

"He opened the hand painted door he was so proud of, and I walked into the apartment, sidling past the painted naked lady on the door, mentally promising myself to be quick, and hoping that he left the door open behind me."

Grrrrr. Sure, there are details, important details...because really? Never enter the apartment of someone who's painted a naked lady on their front door. But there's got to be a better way to say that.

I'm as guilty as the next person. It's actually pretty embarrassing. My two favorite tools for combating this are:
1) Find/Replace - I do searches on "thought that" and tell it to replace it with "thought" - It's faster than searching all the thats and looking at them one by one. "said that" "told me that" "assumed that" "grateful that" It's still a long list.
2) Beta Readers. - Some of the words I repeat are specific to one scene, betas can catch this - especially if I've done #1 already before they read it.

Lastly, if it's an action you keep repeating, say, rolling eyes, or cracking knuckles, you may want to head over to The Bookshelf Muse's Emotion Thesaurus. They have emotions listed followed by the many different ways people express them.

- Holen

P.S. Congrats to Mel who won our awesome auction package and helped a great cause at the same time!

So tell us, what actions do you overuse?


Lisa Gail Green said...

Great advice! It bugs me too. Did I mention that it bugs me? ha ha. Just kidding. I started to read a self published novel and the author kept doing just that. It was driving me crazy and I actually yelled at the book, "You don't have to hit me over the head with it, I get it!" I stopped reading it after that.

Josin L. McQuein said...


Some writers seem to take the same approach to novels (especially for YA) that Bart Simpson took with TV.

"I'm on TV. Redundancy is my job. MY JOB. It's my job to be redundant."

I blame high school lit teachers who all seem to think they're the first one to point out that the Shakespeare we read today is like 1/4 the length of the original plays. (Usually a fact trotted out when someone complains about how long it takes to trudge through what should be a quick read.) "They had to cut out all the repetitious instances of information he padded the originals with because that was the only way the rude audiences of Shakespeare's day would get the point."

If it's good enough for the Bard...

Hmath said...

Lisa, I was tempted to do an example describing beating a dead horse. It would've been redundant on multiple levels :)

Josin - I love that episode!

Lisa_Gibson said...

I agree with you, beta readers help wonders in alleviating much of the redundancy. I know my pet offenders (favorite words I tend to use) and axe those out first too. I have been known to read out loud too.

Debra Driza said...

Ohh, I overuse a ton of stuff on first drafts--just, really, eyes. Barf. Betas are fab for pointing that stuff out! Not just words, but parts in your novel where they go, "Yeah, yeah, we GET it already. Put a sock in it!"


Katie Ashley said...

HAHA, this is awesome, especially since I did a little weeding...okay more weed whacking with the epic weedeater of doom of some instances in The Guardians where I kinda had the "What do you mean?" thing going on. It was sorta embarassing that they had made it to this extent after all the many revisions I'd done with it. Great post!

J.S. Wood said...

Awesome post. Awesome post. Awesome post. :D

Wendy Delfosse said...

Great tip! I love find/replace, but I'm curious: Are you really saying leave in the "said that" "grateful that" instances? When I think of sentences with those ("She said that she needed more sleep." "I was grateful that no one got hurt.") The thats don't seem any better than the "Thought that" instances. There are legitimate uses (and who doesn't love to intentionally break a grammar rule?) but I found searching for all the thats in my manuscript turned up a ton of unneeded ones.

Hmath said...

No, I was saying that those are instances where I find say, "said that" and tell it to replace all with "said". It saves some time.

Jamie Blair said...

BOOKSHELF MUSE WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE? Holen, this is the best link I've ever clicked on. I will have this blog open every time I write from now on! No more scrunching eyebrows when mad - angry muppet characters.

roh morgon said...

Redundant words! Yes, this is my pet peeve, too. I nail everyone in my writers group for this all the time.

My problem isn't so much when I'm writing. I can usually keep track of word use for several scenes or more. My problem is when I go back to edit. I'll look at a sentence and think,"Oh, this will be so much stronger if I use this word instead," only to glance up the page and see the same word two paragraphs before.

And my pet words/phrases? Clenched jaw, long breath, throat get the picture (lots of tension in my characters!)

Thanks so much for the link to the Emotion Thesaurus - that will definitely come in handy!

Anonymous said...

Some great advice. Thanks for sharing and some interesting comments.

Angela Ackerman said...

I'm late to the party, but thanks so much for mentioning The Bookshelf Muse. I couldn't agree more with this post!