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TAUTOLOGIES

July 27, 2011

One of the things every writer must do is get to the point. It is your responsibility not only to entertain your reader, but get there with the fewest words possible. Your job is not to impress your reader with how many words you can spew out, or how big a word count you can use to describe what a flower looks like, it’s how you can convey your word picture in the most efficient way possible. GET TO THE POINT!

Word economy is a huge factor in the writing and editing process. One of the tricks of the trade is to look for unnecessary words and phrases that can be eliminated, redundancies that don’t add anything, words that bog down the flow of the prose. One way to clean things up is to look for tautologies.

Now you might ask, what is a tautology? A tautology is using different words to say the same thing, even if the repetition doesn’t necessarily provide clarity. I had no idea I was doing this until a member of our writer’s group did a presentation on it several years ago. It stuck with me. I want to give her credit, but I can’t remember her name. If I come across it later, I will announce it because she changed my life!

Once I became aware of tautologies, I discovered that I’d embedded many of them into my writing. Embarrassing myself in the process, I found several hundred words I could eliminate from an average manuscript. It came as a wakeup call. I think it did the same for many members of our group.

I’m about to list a series of examples to give you all your wakeup call. I would venture to guess some of you are going to have a bit of a rude awakening. How many of you have phrases like:

Stand up

Sit down

Whisper quietly

Slam hard

Hit hard

Scream loudly

Yell loudly

Run fast

Dig down

Jump up

Crawl slowly

The list goes on. Every one of those word pairs contains chaff at the end… a tautology… an extra word. Dump them! They are redundant, they are obvious, your reader already knows!

Of course, there are always exceptions. Or, are there? For instance, what if a character jumps up on a ledge? How about the character jumps onto the ledge? Or the character jumps down into the pit? Instead the character jumps into the pit. See? Was that so hard?

Now it’s time to slash and burn. Try this. Check the word count of your MS before you look for tautologies. Write it down. Now do a word search or just do an edit and look for them. When you are done, check that word count again. You might be surprised.

Happy editing!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann Marquez permalink
    July 27, 2011 2:35 pm

    Very interesting, Fred! Thank you for sharing this. 😉

  2. July 30, 2011 1:43 pm

    Another brilliant piece, Fred! My son David was here for a few days and I didn’t have a chance to reply to your article. David (davidmayerhofer.com) took shots of Mario Grossi and his new duo partner, Sharon Freemon, for a Loughlin gig. He’s become a master photographer, equally as good with lighting and touch-ups.

    I’m totally guilty of all the repeats. But I accidentally discovered them about two or three years ago, when for no reason I realized they were the same thing. But I still fall into the trap, and it’s like a pleasurable game when I discover one. Of course it’s a little late to make corrections that are already in print.

    How did you get so smart?

    • July 30, 2011 9:23 pm

      Felix,

      First off, I’m not that smart! But thanks anyway! I’ve just picked up a few things along the way. Always appreciate your comments and I hope it helps you with any future projects.

      As for already being in print. That’s the thing about authors and writer’s. To cop a phrase from Charlton Heston, for writers, the editing doesn’t stop until the story is pried from our cold dead hands, or in this case, until it is in final print! Of course, there are always reprints! The beauty of electronic publishing is that you can go back and edit anytime you want. Unfortunately, anyone that has already purchased a copy has whatever version was out there before you tampered with it again.

      I have several short stories in print and when I go back over them again, I cringe because I keep learning and see something new each time that I want to change, but oops, too late! You just have to let it go and move on.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  3. July 31, 2011 12:15 am

    Always happy to oblige, Fred.

    Since I began to write so late in life (60), I constantly find errors in my stories that also causes me to cringe. But in most cases I’ve been able to repair them.

    Keep teaching me.

  4. August 2, 2011 4:17 pm

    Fred,

    Finally, I’m getting back to blogging. So I took some time to look up my friends. I love your blog. Great job! I’m adding you to my blogroll.

    Big Hugs,
    Lisa

  5. Donald Riggio permalink
    August 2, 2011 9:26 pm

    Writers who are afraid of words worry me.

    • August 3, 2011 1:29 am

      Not afraid of any words. Just how some of them are used. Thanks for writing!

  6. fosse permalink
    February 9, 2012 10:09 am

    hi!!!

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