Friday, February 20, 2015

Saying Things Twice

A common signifier of not-yet-professional writing is an author who consistently says things twice. This doesn’t mean that they repeat themselves verbatim; it means that they say something, and then they re-state it in a different manner. For example:

     Walking fast, she hurried to the door.

That’s rather redundant, isn’t it? We’re told that she’s “walking fast,” and then we’re told that she “hurried.” Those are basically the same thing. This sentence should just be shortened to “She hurried to the door.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know why redundancy isn’t a good trait for your writing to have. If you don’t know, here’s a link to the many posts that touch on redundancy and its negative effect on writing. To put it shortly: redundancy wastes your readers’ time and insults their intelligence.

This is a real line from an actual manuscript.

Here’s some more examples:

     “Turn in your badge and gun now,” I ordered, holding out my hand.
     Detective Mullens cursed under his breath. Reluctantly, he complied, handing me his badge and his gun.

See the repetition? First, we’re told that Mullens “complied.” Since we just read the order he was complying with, we know that this means that he handed over his badge and his gun. But then the writer goes ahead and tells us that’s what he did, anyway.

     “Okay, I’ll see you at noon tomorrow,” Julia said. She made a note of the meeting, writing it down in her planner.

Same situation—“made a note” and “wrote it down” mean the same thing. One of those phrases should be cut.

Now, you may remember the common writing advice “Show, don’t tell.” This novice writer’s habit of saying things twice often comes about because the author chooses to show and tell. Here’s an example that one of my teachers once pointed out in my own writing:

     For most people, the view from the lighthouse would have been very impressive. But Hero had seen far more than most people. He simply yawned and leaned against the railing.

First I told my readers that Hero had seen more than most people, and then I showed that through his actions. You are all smart enough to read between the lines if I simply show you:

     For most people, the view from the lighthouse would have been very impressive. Hero simply yawned and leaned against the railing.

Bam. Gone is the redundancy, leaving behind tighter, more efficient prose. All I needed to do was trust my readers to be smart enough to understand what I was showing them.

Another example:

     “Thank you for your help,” Jane said. She smiled, her expression happy.

Boooo. We all know that a smile is a happy expression, right? No need to re-state it.

Pictured: A Happy Expression

You all get the picture. Next time you’re editing, keep an eye out for any spots where you might have said something twice. When you find them, ruthlessly eliminate the redundancy.

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