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TAUTOLOGIES – AGAIN

March 23, 2022

            I got kind of a shock when I saw the file date of this, one of my first articles for Fred Central. It was dated in 2011! I’ve been at this for eleven years. I’d been under the impression I started this blog site in 2012. Go figure.

            What inspired this particular revisit was a multitude of books I’ve read lately. The subject of today’s article is tautologies. I wanted to revisit it again because I’ve seen plenty of examples in many mainstream novels, not just self-published types.

TO BEGIN WITH…

One of the things every writer must do is get to the point. It’s 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!

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.

TAUTOLOGIES

Now, you might ask, what’s 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 (several years ago, in this case, meaning around 2008 or so). It stuck with me. I want to give her credit, but I can’t remember her name. If I come across it later, I’ll announce it because she changed my life! (NOTE: I still haven’t recalled that person’s name…sorry.)

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’d 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

Run fast

Dig deep

Jump up

Jump down

Crawl slowly

Climb up

Drop down

The list goes on. Every one of those word pairs contains chaff at the end…a tautology…an extra word. Dump them! They’re redundant, they’re 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? Instead, how about the character jumps onto the ledge? Or the character jumps down into the pit? Instead, how about 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 and write that number down. Now do a word search or just do an edit and look for them. When you’re done, check the word count again. You might be surprised.

One note: Make sure when you eliminate the tautology that what you originally wrote still makes sense! Don’t to an auto find/replace as that can lead to many issues. Be sure to scan each example before changing or altering.

Happy editing!

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