Friday, October 16, 2009

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Analyzing Sentences for Redundancy and Wordiness

You know when redundancy is good, right? It falls under the third meaning of "redundant" in my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: “serving as a duplicate for preventing failure of an entire system (as a spacecraft) upon failure of a single component.” If you were an astronaut, you’d want as much redundancy as the shuttle designers could provide.

As a writer, however, you want to avoid redundancy unless there’s a solid reason to repeat yourself for emphasis, or to make certain an important story point is not overlooked by the reader. It’s rare this is needed. Readers are smart people.

Back to my trusty Merriam-Webster’s for the relevant definitions for writers: “exceeding what is necessary or normal” and “characterized by similarity or repetition.”

How do you find this stuff in your manuscript? I find mine sentence by sentence during revisions, and my critique group pals point them out when I submit chapters for their review. Here are the basic rules:

1. Don’t say the same thing two or more different ways (unless you have a conscious and valid reason for doing so).

2. Don’t tell us what a character is going to say before she says it.

3. Don’t tell us what a character said after he says it.

4. Don’t use ten words to tell us something you can effectively say in three words.

Yes, sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. If you meticulously carry out this process during the revision and self-editing phase of your current manuscript, your next manuscript will be cleaner, and the editing will be easier, because you will develop a greater awareness of what you’re putting down on paper as you write.

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Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).

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13 comments :

  1. Excellent advice. Thanks for sharing :)

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  2. Not to be redundant, but yes, good advice. Thanks.
    karen

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  3. Usually I find that less is more. Nice points to remember, Patricia.

    Elspeth

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  4. Thanks! I am going to take your advice since I am beginning to slog through the first draft of my WIP.

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  5. Nothing like hitting me square in the heel.

    [Boy, I'm glad I use a computer now rather than a typewriter with all those piles of paper.]

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  6. Great advice. And I've started my edits.

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  7. I concur, excellent information. Thanks. Hope you have a good weekend.

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  8. Excellent advice. I can add, don't tell us what someone thinks then have him say it aloud.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  9. "Don’t use ten words to tell us something you can effectively say in three words."

    AMEN!

    No reason to hesitate when it comes to cutting word count. Besides, it makes a guy feel like Tony Soprano gettin' ridda da competition. Don't need da woid - wack it, see? Gotta get to da point, keep the action n' conversation movin'. No sloggin' along or ya swim wit da fishes. Got it? Good.

    Can't believe this is the 1st I've seen this blog. Good stuff here.

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  10. Redundancy is an easy way to rev up a word count, but unfortunately those words will get cut. May as well not add them in the first place.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
    http://www.morganmandel.com
    http://choiceonepublishing.com

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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