Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Redundancy Alert

To a writer, redundancy of overused words stands out like a spectator's head blocking your view of the screen. Our eyes and minds remember so well when last that word was used. Then we tisk-tisk the author, and subconsciously run alternative word choices through our mind, wondering how the author and editors missed this.

But there's more to redundancy we should be looking for than just overused words as we edit our work. What about gestures?

Do we really need to read about a gesture if it means the same thing as the words we just heard in a character's speech?

"Yes," he nodded in agreement.

Wouldn't simply "Yes." suffice, or He nodded. Last I checked nodding is an agreeable state or positive response to someone or something, while shaking one's head is in disagreement or a negative response. Either the gesture or the spoken word should sufficiently relay the message we're trying to get across.

This all comes down to writing concisely and with power. If we write excellent dialogue, then the gestures required should be limited. If we describe expressive gestures, then dialogue may not be needed. How many silent messages do we send with our eyes, movement of a limb, or some other body part, that need no words attached to be certain the message is clear? Intermixing this type of communication throughout your story will make it more realistic, and interesting, too.

What spoken words and gestures do you tend to use that only up the word count with no valuable purpose because they constitute redundancy?

Surrendering to Him,



Terri Tiffany said...

Good point! I like your clarification about shake or nod. I have often though a person could shake their head and it could mean yes or no??

Jessica said...

Eek. I know I'm bad at this. I always find myself wanting to have my heroine lick her lips, or the hero run his fingers through his hair. LOL
Great post!

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Eileen,
Redundancy is something I really struggle with. We're told to show not tell. But I find myself continually seeking for fresh ways to show the emotion without being redundant! I'm sure there are certain gestures and sayings that I repeat. I've caught some in my edits. But it's hard with a full length novel that takes a year to write, to try to remember everything you've already written!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Hi, Ladies:

Mostly, I think we catch these more in our editing phase, once the whole manuscript is complete.

Jessica, we need to be careful not to confuse character mannerisms with the more common gestures that everyone uses. There's always a balancing act required. If you're repeating the mannerisms on every page, then yes, you should probably be concerned and check your reasoning for doing so, but otherwise, if your crit partners haven't noticed a problem with them then they are likely fine.

Georgiana said...

Yep, I seem to have a new gesture for each book (blogging on that later this week.)

But one thing I used to do that was completely meaningless was

He shrugged his shoulders.

Well, what else was he going to shrug, LOL!

Jeannie Campbell said...

i have to be the world's worst. seriously. i'll say something like, "His hands curled into fists IN ANGER." now YOU tell ME what's the point of that? i do a great job showing and then add additional detail to TELL. thank the lord for my crit partner. :)

Lady Glamis said...

Oh my goodness! I LOVE this post! Thank you so much. This is where much of my word count spills over.

He blinked. He shook his head. He turned... yeah. It's annoying, but good thing I edit so I can cut these things out. It's good to be reminded. Thank you!

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed your comment and thoughts. :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Georgiana, it's so easy to do, though, isn't it. As we get wiser we spot the tags that aren't needed, but still some slip by us. At least we can laugh at ourselves.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Jeannie, when I read something like that I automatically remember the lesson I read about somewhere on not patronizing (sp?) my readers. If I can think in that way, then it helps me catch the unnecessary. Fun stuff never ends.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Lady Glamis, thanks for dropping by mine, too. I really enjoyed your post. It hit home big time. We are too often rushing life by, and not seeing the value in the current moment. I totally agree! I look forward to following your blog now that I've found it!

Janine said...

My secret weapon for combatting these types of redundancies is the AutoCrit Editing Wizard.

The wizard is an online tool that finds redundancies, overused and repeated words, plus a whole lot more.

I love it :-)

Katie said...

I often embarass myself with my redundancy when I read through my first draft!! I'm such a overwriter the first time around. Then I cut, cut, cut. Great post!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Janine, thanks for sharing. I'll try that little gift out next round of editing. I'm glad you shared!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Katie, I'm just like you. I'm even embarrassed to send it in to my crit group after I've put it through one round of edits. They still catch so much!

I always aim for 5000 more words than necessary in my first draft just for this reason and useless scenes, too. Sometimes I amuse myself by writing a scene that really is just for practice. Cut, cut,cut, it goes!

Thanks for stopping by!

Cindy said...

Oooo, good post! I used to be sooo bad at this. I'll admit, I still struggle with it. I can see a difference between some of my older manuscripts and my new ones. But I'll do something just like the example you gave, with the "yes" and the nodding. I am going to keep this in mind as I jump into editing my manuscript. Thanks!