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Omit Needless Words & Tighten Your Writing Part III


Part III in my tighter writing series.  If you haven't read Part I and Part II, please do. 


Remember those redundant adjectives?  I wanted to return to that and address redundant phrases / expressions because it's not always the modifier that needs to go. There are a lot of ways to be redundant. 


The reason is because I like you.

Becomes:  The reason is, I like you... OR Because I like you.

Each and every one of your words should count.

Becomes:  Every word should count.

He nodded his head and reached for a pen with his hand.

Becomes:  He nodded and reached for a pen. 

Looking back in the past, I realized it was me who introduced them for the first time.

Becomes:  Looking back, I realized I introduced them.

I tried to warn her in advance that the weather conditions were likely to be quite severe

Becomes: I tried to warn her the weather might be severe. 

This is a good example where I might use a complimentary "that" as a beat ("I tried to warn her that...").  I also exchanged "were likely to be" for "might" to tighten further.  

Here is great list of redundant expressions (pleonasms)that will show you just how prevalent they are. 


On a similar note, make sure you're also on the look out for sentences where you just plain repeat yourself.  If two sentences give us the same information, even if they're worded differently, chances are one of them can go.  I see this (and do this) a lot in transitions from internal thought to dialogue.

A quick example:

Wow, was he reading Jane Eyre?  I snatched the book from him.  "Are you reading Jane Eyre?"

You could take the internal thought off all together (which I would do if you're trying to shed word count) or replace it with something less repetitive.

Could become:  Was I seeing this?  I snatched the book from him.  "Are you reading Jane Eyre?"



The other thing I wanted to expand on is specifying something to the point of subtle redundancy.  Like using the word "there" to reemphasize where your character is, or in the above sample where I specified it was the character's head that was nodding or hand that was reaching, there are a lot of instances where you can be redundant without realizing it. 


1)  In the garage, she walked over to the tool bench to grab a hammer before heading over to get in the car. 

This could be a lot tighter.  Look at the base words.  We want the reader to know she's in the garage, grabbing a hammer, and getting in the car.  We don't need the small movements or specifications. 

Becomes:  In the garage, she grabbed a hammer and got in the car. 

If she was skipping or running, that'd be worth specifying but if nothing out of the ordinary is happening we know she's walking around.  We don't need to know the hammer was on the tool bench unless it's important.  And just like that, twenty-two words becomes twelve. 

2) Sarah really wanted to see what was happening outside.  She turned toward the window and looked down and out toward the scene.  The gardener was yelling at a cat!

Again, we don't need the movements, and we know she'll be looking outside at a scene if she looks out a window. 

Becomes: Sarah wanted to see what was happening.  She looked outside.  The gardener was yelling at a cat!

You could keep mention of the window but it's one of those things that's sort of obvious if we know Sarah is inside.  It all depends on scene setting, really.  When tightening like this, do make sure you're tweaking things, adding conjunctions, stronger words, etc. to adjust the flow and cadence.  You risk sounding stilted if you don't account for cut words.

Compare this to the original sentence: Sarah looked outside to see the commotion.  The gardener was yelling at a cat!

It all depends on your style, the flow, and the information we've already been given.  Sometimes you need these details just for the sake of pacing. That's okay!  Just make conscious decisions and you'll be golden.


Thoughts? Questions? Examples?  Leave your smarts in the comments!


Jonathon Arntson said...

Holy chipotle! You are awesome. I look forward to plugging these ideas into my head and cutting...but first, I have to finish the rough draft.

Casey Something said...

Definitely, Jon. Don't worry about this stuff until you're revising. You'll end up rewriting a lot of it!

Alyssa Kirk said...

This is so helpful and timely for me. An agent that has read some of my work and asked for more also asked me to do some cutting. Thanks for this awesome post. It helps!

Anne Gallagher said...

Great Great post. Thanks for the tips. I'll be using them forthwith.

Elliot Grace said...

Throughout the many rejections I've received in regards to my novel, the top complaint has always been the high word count. Using this technique, one can substantially lower their overall numbers without losing the "voice" and causing the story to sound robotic. Well done, Casey :)

Unknown said...

Redundancies. The boulders I stumble over the most. After months/years of trying to eliminate them, I got a critique that says I underwrite.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Good post, Casey.
I’ll add a redundancy: Whether OR NOT…
Also, I’ve heard the second set of redundancies referred to as “shoe leather” because the author is moving the character around.

Erin Kuhns said...

Thank you SO much for this post. I find you give excellent examples with concrete direction. I really appreciate the advice.

Mallory Battista said...

[What a] Great post! [There are] A few members of my writing group [that] have been struggling with this particular problem.

Casey Something said...

I'm glad you're finding the series helpful, everyone! I'm learning to apply this stuff to my writing and thought I'd share.

Great tightening Mallory!

Unknown said...

Great post. This is something I definitely struggle with, now off to eliminate wordiness in my novel.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. I've bookmarked the page with the list of redundant words. I love your examples. They were really helpful.

Yvonne Osborne said...

This is a timely post for me, because I'm working to reduce the word count of my ms.
Thank you so much!

PJ Hoover said...

Super helpful, Casey!

Jude said...

This is an awesome post! Thanks for reminding me that I need to use a fine-toothed comb when reading manuscripts :)

Thermocline said...

Your last line is the clincher - making a conscious decision. That can be tough. Your series has been great to help me see more of the unconscious habits I've developed. Thanks!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Excellent examples :) I hate finding this kind of stuff in my writing!

Paul Greci said...

That's a great link to redundant phrases. Thanks, Casey. And your examples are excellent!

lotusgirl said...

You have great tips and examples. You keep me coming back.

Owllady said...

I'm glad somebody is talking about redundancies. I do it a lot and while I've cut back, that demon won't go away. Thanks for the suggestions. I love when people give concrete examples.

Janine said...

The AutoCrit Editing Wizard is perfect for this stage of editing. It finds repeated and overused words, cliches, redundancies, slow pacing...you name it!

It saves me a ton of time and the result is a much tighter manuscript. I can't rave about it enough!

LD Johnson said...

Thank you for this wonderful information. I wanted to share another great website that has tons of editing information.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the tips, Casey! They're enlightening :)