As an editor, I come across redundancies quite often. Writers add in unnecessary descriptions that are obvious to readers. For example, in real life we wouldn’t say, “I lifted up my hand to wave at my neighbor across the street.” We’d say, “I waved at my neighbor across the street.” We all know we need to lift our hand to wave at someone far away from us, right? Here are more frequently used redundancies to watch out for:
No) “Stop!” I shouted out to him.
Can you shout “in”? These are all redundant: exhaling out, screaming out, huffing out, giggling out, etc. We know if we can hear the sounds, they are coming out of someone.
Yes) “Stop!” I shouted to him.
No) I closed my fist and pointed my index finger at her.
We know what a hand looks like when someone is pointing. No need to describe it.
Yes) I pointed at her.
No) I wept sadly. / I wept from the depths of my soul.
Weeping (in the negative context) is sad and grievous by definition. This is redundant.
Yes) I wept.
If you want to convey more emotion, add a visual: She collapsed on the couch and wept. He fell to his knees and wept in the drenching rain.
No) Her face split in a smile.
This one always makes me cringe. It’s opposite of a redundancy—it makes us visualize an impossibility. I see a face sliced in half with a butcher knife. Ick! Please don’t split faces unless you are writing horror.
Yes) She smiled.
No) His eyes blinked rapidly.
What other body part can blink? Body parts don’t need to be spelled out when it’s obvious what they are.
Yes) He blinked rapidly.
Here’s another one: “Her mouth turned down in a frown.” What other body parts frown? Just write: “She frowned.”
No) He lifted his leg and started to run.
Two problems: We know if someone is running, jogging, walking, climbing stairs, etc., they are lifting their legs. Don’t write the obvious. Also, take out “started to.” In the example above, his leg is still in the air because he’s forever suspended in “starting” mode. If he’s going to run, let him run and move the story forward!
Yes) He ran after the burglar even though his knee was throbbing.
No) The night was pitch black, and she stumbled around in the darkness without any light to guide her.
If the night is “pitch black” and she’s “stumbling around in the darkness” then we know there’s no light. Delete that last phrase. Also combine the two descriptions of darkness—we get it.
Yes) She stumbled around in the pitch black night.
Often I read next, “She saw the outline of the house up ahead.” Wait, how? If there is no light, she can’t see anything. If you want her to see something, write that it was dark except for the pale glow of the moon. Or it can be pitch black, but she turned on her cell phone or a flashlight.
No) His eyes scanned the room and came to rest on the gun in the corner.
We know his eyes are doing the scanning, so leave them out. Then his eyes rest on a gun? That’s a weird visual. Use a better description.
Yes) He scanned the room and spotted the gun in the corner.
Savvy Writer Tip:
Writers sometimes overdescribe scenes and visuals, spelling out the obvious and bogging down the reader. Remember, we can easily see and hear what’s going on with clear, precise wording. Savvy writers eliminate redundancies! 🙂