There are many phrases throughout our language that convey simple meaning without an overabundance of words. Honing in on singular phrases or words is paramount to rid your manuscript of redundancies. In the depths of editing, my novel is littered throughout. But, for the most part, it’s as easy as tapping the delete key to come back to clarity.
Clarity is what writers want to strive for. The problem is our minds obsession to picture exact details of scenes can hamper the exchange from author to reader. This, in turn, muddles our sentences, which muddles the writing for our readers and their enjoyment. Other words and phrases slip by the eyes without a second glance, but best get rid of those as well.
The first slough of phrases to axe is directional additions. I’ve stated before that I like directional words in dialogue, but these types need to be cut throughout your writing.
- I knelt down.
- I knelt.
Of course, the character knelt down, that’s exactly what kneeling is, but I’ve done this numerous times throughout my manuscript. Unless when your character kneels they somehow go up in some gravitational paradox, hit the delete key.
- He descended down the steps.
- He descended the steps.
If my character is descending, he’s going down not up, no need for the direction, the single word choice already describes the action.
- He slid down to the floor.
- He slid to the floor.
I found a horribly silly sentence in my manuscript that read something like:
—I descended down two levels of stairs, jerked to my left and ascended up another stretch.
It aches my heart writing the above sentence and reading it out loud is even worse. Scratch out those redundancies, it’ll go a long way.
The next example can be a controversial one. Let’s identify it before I explain why.
- The bar maiden began to cry.
- The bar maiden cried.
Now it can seem like, well I want to portray the initial start up of a cry. There is a stark difference between the beginning of the cry and someone in the midst of one. I see it in my mind’s eye clearly, but does stating a character began to cry add anything?
Instead make this bar maiden use some of those non-verbals, make her shoulders shudder, make her eyes squint, let wetness congeal under her green pools—all those examples portray a better image than she began to cry. If you want your readers to focus on the start of a cry, make it worth their time. Otherwise, leave it at the character cried.
Another way to cut out redundancies is with the external sounds and internal feels. This is especially needed if you’re in the first person POV, but the third person could use a glance as well.
- I heard my cry, it sounded like a feral animal in a fit of rage.
- My cry, it sounded like a feral animal in a fit of rage.
- Or even better: My cry was a feral animal in a fit of rage.
I wrote the first example, an exuberant amount of times. It sounds normal, but when you think about it, do I need to tell the reader that my protagonist heard his own scream? The last sentence conveys all of the above with less wordage. Less is more in this case. Sometimes the structure of the sentence needs to be tweaked, but we don’t need to hear what you’re characters hear, write what it sounds like and your audience will hear it on their own without the extra aide.
The “I feel” and “I felt” ones can be distracting too. Cut them out, like the example below.
- The cold would help mend the rampant rage I felt within.
- The cold would help mend the rampant rage within.
If there is rage within you, you feel it, without having to acknowledge that you did so.
Give the readers sentences devoid of bloated phrases and redundancies.
Until next time, I’ll be hostage to my editing.