5 Redundancies Hiding in Your Writing

We love our words. We love to use the right ones in the right places. And sometimes we get a little Dickenish and babble on, not realizing we are redundant.

Here are five ways redundancy might be sneaking into your writing, slowing you down and bogging your readers.

Stating the Obvious

This is the sneakiest, most devious way redundancies sneak into our writing and can be the hardest to catch because it sounds fine. And sometimes, the redundancy works for slowing the pace of a sentence and creating an image But sometimes it just bogs things.

Example:
Outside, rain fell in sheets against the roof and front windows making the building sound like it was being run through a car wash.

Where else would the rain be falling?

Change to:

Rain fell in sheets against the roof and front windows making the building sound like it was being run through a car wash.

Simple. Effective.

Another example would be:

She nodded her head and smiled.

What else is she going to nod? Her hands? Cut to:

She nodded and smiled.

Another:

He tried to ease himself past her.

Implied. And awkward. What else is he going to ease past her? And yes, he could try to ease his car past her… but then it wouldn’t be redundant because we would be mentioning the car and not himself. πŸ˜‰

Redundant Dialogue Tags

This, sadly, can be a mark of an amateur–even if you aren’t. They can particularly sneak into first drafts when you are still figuring out who is saying what and how. That’s fine! Just be sure you remove them by the time you hand it off to someone else.

For example:

β€œTrouble in paradise?” Ethan asked.
β€œShut up!” she snapped.

The ‘she snapped’ above is fine. However, it is somewhat obvious (especially if you read the scene leading up to this) that she is not a happy camper at this point. A simple “Shut up!” with the exclamation mark shows that there is emotion behind this statement. As well, by not saying ‘snapped’ or ‘shouted’ or ‘grumbled’ it allows the reader to put their own spin on how she says it and they can line it up with how THEY see this character. Now, if this was the first few chapters, I might put a tag in there to help the reader build the character in the mind of the reader and teach them how this character reacts to things like her brother poking at her after she’s had a fight with her love interest. But by the second half of the novel, it is no longer necessary and becomes… you got it… redundant. It also slows things down–especially as this is the end of a scene. You want to end those with snap to keep the reader in the middle of the action and needing to turn the page even though they promised themselves when they reached the end of the chapter that they would turn off the light.

Another killer (in the bad sense of the word) dialogue tag is ‘questioned.’ If you have to add ‘she questioned’ as a dialogue tag you have two possible issues. One you aren’t giving the reader enough credit and assume they can’t figure it out. OR your dialogue needs strengthening because it isn’t obvious that the speaker is asking a question/questioning the other character.

redundancy--combines

If it saves time and is effective, it ain’t redundant. (Those are combines cutting wheat, by the way. A whole lot of combines!)

Say it Again

I know I have to watch for extra ‘his’ and ‘her’ and all that kind of jazz in my sentences. I say it again, and again.

Example:

She glowered at him and blocked his way.

Unless she is glowering at someone else, the ‘at him’ can be cut due to the context making it:

She glowered and blocked his way.

Simple. Effective. Packed between other sentences it is nice and fast and it gives the reader some credit to fill in who or what she is glowering at. Look at all that action!

Telling the Reader

Basically, telling instead of showing the reader can end up feeling redundant as well as pushing the reader further from the story (because they don’t get a chance to join in and enjoy the smells, sounds, etc., themselves).

Let’s see if you can find it in the example below:

To her right, through the slats in the side of the tunnel, she could see dirty snow and trees whirl and plummet over the side of the shed.

Did you find it? She could see. It can now become (allowing the reader to see instead of the character–and letting them into the story):

To her right, through the slats in the side of the tunnel, dirty snow and trees whirled and plummeted over the side of the shed.

If we wanted to be even fussier we could do more by fixing the bolded redundancy (tunnel and shed are both referring to an avalanche shelter here):

To her right, through the slats in the side of the tunnel, dirty snow and trees whirled and plummeted over the side of the shed.

In essence words like ‘felt,’ ‘saw,’ ‘heard,’ ‘tasted,’ are signs that you might be describing/telling the reader something and working as a filter instead of letting them dive into the story.

Over-describing

Basically this is a sneaky one that slows down your writing by going on and on about one thing in our effort to really give the reader a sense of an event or a place. And so we over-describe. Instead of finding one or two great things to mention about a place to give the reader a feeling and a sense and allow them to fill in the rest based on what they’d like to see in such a setting, we go on. And on. We think we are doing them a favour by writing all these great descriptions, but the fact is that we butt them out of the way and say and then there was a tree over here that looks like a ghost in the pale moonlight and its where Jess had her first kiss and then over here is grass of a variety that is almost extinct and then over here… So what’s important? What impression are we trying to create? What do we want the reader to build off of?

The other problem with over-describing is that we tend to remind the reader over and over again about certain details like the rust on the car fenders or trust issues between lovers. If you’ve just spent a paragraph talking about how decrepit and rusty this car is (or how two soon-to-be-lovers have trust issues), the next paragraph doesn’t need to mention it again. Hints later in the story to remind the reader and to build a picture are fine. Ex. She slammed the door, sending flakes of rusted body fluttering to the ground.

(The examples in the first four tips are ones I came across in my book Whiskey and Gumdrops (due out October 2013) as I was editing it so you know I am guilty of writing in redundancies!)

What do you think? What are your worst redundancies? Do you have tips or stories to tell about saying it twice? Let me know in the comment section and thanks for reading.

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10 comments on “5 Redundancies Hiding in Your Writing
  1. Thanks Jean! I need to save it somewhere as a reminder to not do this stuff..:)
    Some of these examples are so easy to do and not catch it.Great post!

  2. Jemi Fraser says:

    I often feel I deserve a crown for being the Queen of Redundancies! I spend an entire ’round’ of editing looking for those redundant phrases. They keep sneaking in there πŸ™‚

  3. cleemckenzie says:

    I’m particularly snarky about those “filter” words. I find them in the best of stories and always wonder how the editors let them through. Now, having snarked about those “He could see, feel, taste. . .whatever” constructions, I’d better go through my latest ms. and make sure I didn’t fall in that trap. Thanks for the great post. I’ll be linking to it when I return to blogging in Oct.

  4. Redundant and overly descriptive πŸ™ That is me usually. Great tips Jean.

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