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WASTED WORDS

October 31, 2018

I’ve talked plenty about tautologies, redundancies and writing tight.

The other day, we were driving home from the bookstore (hey, isn’t that a coincidence), and we were in the turn lane. This was an obvious turn lane with no other option. I had to wonder why everyone had their turn signal on. Even though I suppose it’s a state law, it made me wonder about the redundancy. We obviously can’t go anywhere else, so why do we have to let everyone know where we have to go anyway? We can’t change our minds and go somewhere else.

Redundant info.

Then I thought of the most common tautologies.

To remind you, a tautology is saying the same thing twice.

Stand up.

Sit down.

MYRIAD OF WAYS

There are a myriad of ways we waste words. Though I like to rag on literary writers, as much as they’re in love with words and like to ramble endlessly about description and feelings and inner thoughts, even they have to get to some kind of point eventually. As long as it takes a literary writer to get from A to B, there’s still some sense of word economy they have to adhere to.

On the other hand, if you’re a genre writer, or even a mix of literary/genre, you still have to get to the point eventually. To me, the quicker the better. I want description and characterization as well. However, I believe it can be done in as few words as possible, so the story moves, not at a glacial pace, but with reasonable speed.

The hazard for any writer, no matter how practiced you are, is that those wasted words inevitably creep into the story in a myriad of ways.

You can’t help it. Unless you’re a very slow and rigid writer, when you spit out your verbal diarrhea in a spurt of inspiration as the muse hits, you’re going to throw in wasted words. Your mind doesn’t always translate to the page what your fingers type (or hand writes, or mouth speaks). There’s a certain disconnect between what you’re thinking and what you actually write.

It’s natural, it’s inevitable. It’s why we have editing.

WEEDING OUT WASTED WORDS

This can be tougher than it seems. Tautologies are a good start. However, some of them are so naturally occurring, you may not even be aware of them.

Then there’s the turn signal in the turn lane. While it may be state law in the real world, in the literary world, it may be automatic, but reads poorly. Is it supposed to be there?

A blatant example.

“I think I’m going to get myself a cup of coffee.” Amy stood up, walked to the counter and poured a cup of coffee. She took a sip, sighed, then sat down in the chair at the kitchen table.

Oh…kay.

How about this?

Amy poured a cup of coffee, eased into the chair, leaned her elbow on the kitchen table and took a sip. “This tastes great.”

From 39 words to 24 words, eliminated two tautologies, removed an obvious and unnecessary statement and made it all simpler. Plus, I made it more active.

Here’s another one for you.

Of all the things Scott hated, none was worse than coffee. When he took a sip, his face screwed up, he spit it out, and said, “Aaagh! I wanted tea.”

How about this?

Scott took a sip, gagged and spat it on the ground. “I can’t stand coffee. I’ll take tea instead.”

Cut to the chase. No need for the turn signal when you obviously can’t go anywhere else.

One more.

“Loren, do you want to go to the movies?”

            “I can’t stand going out in the traffic, the heat, the dust and wind. The movies are so expensive. The popcorn smell gets to me, and the crowds close in on me. I don’t like the sticky floor in the aisles and around the seats. Oh, and did I ever tell you about the seats? Are you crazy? Why would I want to go to the movies?”

How about this?

“Loren, do you want to go to the movies?”

            “No.”

SUMMARY

You have to think of your blathering and rambling and how much color you really need and how much of it is relevant to the story. How much of it moves the plot.

Fluff you don’t need, whereas key elements you do. Color is fine. You do need to add life to your story, but not at the expense of wasted words. There’s a way to do it without bogging down the narrative.

Happy writing!

 

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