Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Department of Redundancy Department

I spent two years working on a newspaper copy desk. During that time, my coworkers and I collected examples of what we'd termed the "Department of Redundancy Department." Some reporters were notorious for saying the same thing twice, or even repeating themselves in the stories (notice the example in the previous sentence).

Now, redundancy isn't confined to repeating yourself. There are such things in writing as what I call redundant actions (or description) -- things that you don't need to say because more concise text already assumes said action is taking place.

For example: "She turned her head to look east across the desert."

This is redundant because the act of turning to look means that you're turning your head. Even deeper is the action "to look," which can stand on its own in the sentence.

Now here's the revamped version: "She looked east across the desert."

See how much stronger that sentence is now?

Redundancy is good in some areas (the space shuttle, cars, electronics, etc) but not in writing. The potential for slowing down the pace of the tale and jarring the reader from the story is too great. Mind you, redundancy is not the same thing as repeating a piece of information to draw attention to it. Especially when the original tidbit was supposed to be foreshadowing and now your MC has figured out what it means. That's just plain tying up loose ends.

The easiest way to avoid this, in my opinion, is to read your text out loud. You can hear the redundancy much more easily when speaking the words than reading them on the page. I don't know why that is, just that doing so has helped me numerous times in the past.

What examples of redundancy have you seen?


L. T. Host said...

Excellent, thought-provoking post. I know I have an issue with repetition and redundancy (ha! get it? repetition AND redundancy?!) in my stuff, so I always try to look for it.

As for examples, I have millions, haha. I like re-using "sharp" words. I do that a lot. I find one I like and bam, it shows up three or four times in the next five pages. Whoops.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Excellent post and reminder! I did this a LOT in the beginning of my WIP so it's been a struggle to weed them all out. Of course, I'm not supposed to be looking at that particular manuscript right now. *whistling*

Joshua McCune said...

Very good points... sometimes it's hard to know how many steps to show/tell the reader... it's usually better to leave it more up to the imagination, but frequently harder for the writer to relax his/her control.

Matthew Delman said...

Bane --

The really funny thing is that fiction and technical writing are almost the exact opposite. In fiction, you should allow the reader to assume things; in technical writing, you need to spell absolutely everything out bar none. Very confusing to switch between the two.

Stephanie --

Bad Stephanie! No looking at HATSHEPSUT for another ... wait, how many weeks are left on your hiatus from it?

JAScribbles said...

I've had reviewers of my work say I am repetitive, wordy and vague - all at the same time!

It takes talent to be that off the mark. :-)

Natalie said...

Sometimes when I beta read I notice a writer will explain something and then explain it again the next chapter. I think most of us do this occasionally because we just don't realize that we've already made something clear.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ugh. I have four weeks left!

But I'm breaking into the file occasionally to do word searches and kill some words. That's not really editing, right?

*looks innocent*

Renee Pinner said...

good tip for the self editing. I find this too much in my first drafts!

Adam Heine said...

What makes this harder is what's clear to one reader might not be clear to another. My beta readers sometimes ranged from "I forget what this means. Can you clarify" to "Okay, we get it already" on the same sentence.

Matthew Delman said...

Adam --

I know what you mean. My three main betas run the fantasy reader gamut from light to epic, and the one person who reads a lot of epic fantasy gets where I'm coming from without asking, but the other two tend to not. It's all down to tropes.

Stephanie --

Hate to tell you, but that counts as editing, midear.