December 1, 2014
Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts
Mistake Number Nine: Redundancy
This is the ninth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of various subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Redundancy,” one of the easiest fiction writing traps into which we authors can fall.
Too much description and narration
Switching viewpoints in the same scene
A negative tone throughout the story
Infallible or underdeveloped characters
Stilted or unnatural dialogue
No significant conflict
Weak transitions between paragraphs
Passive verbs instead of active verbs
Lack of sensory detail
Lack of emotion or action
Baker’s Dozen: (Telling instead of showing)
Let’s define redundancy. Encarta’s Dictionary in my WORD processing program tells us it’s “the use of a word or words whose meaning is already conveyed elsewhere in a passage, without a rhetorical purpose.” In other words, it means using the same words or thoughts repeatedly when not necessary. (I just gave you an example of redundancy.)
This fiction flaw is one of the easiest for an author, including myself, to abuse and not even realize it. Therefore, it behooves us to constantly edit our work, to look for redundant words or phrases, and to rewrite those sore spots in the manuscript.
As per my style, the best way to tell you about Fiction Mistake Number Nine is to show you what not to write and how to fix the problem. (Remember “Show not Tell”?) So let’s review six examples of lousy writing with redundancy to the hilt and how to rewrite each properly:
Example One: At twelve p.m. noon, Jerry left on his trip.
Fixed : At noon, Jerry left on his trip. (Yes, twelve p.m. and noon are the same time.)
Believe it or not, one of these redundant phrases slipped through in one of my published books!
Example Two: Rob is a person who is honest and makes it a practice never to lie.
Fixed: Rob is an honest person. /OR/ Rob makes it a practice never to lie. (If Rob’s honest, he’s not a liar.)
Example Three: Marcy rode her horse in a circle around the show ring.
Fixed: Marcy rode her horse in a circle in the show ring. (“Circle” and “around” indicate the same action.)
Example Four: Sadly, Third World countries often have many uneducated citizens, who’ve never attended school.
Fixed: Sadly, Third World countries often have many uneducated citizens. /OR/ Sadly, Third World countries often have many citizens who’ve never attended school. (If they’re uneducated, they haven’t been to school.)
Example Five: Jerry insisted that he saw the accident with his own eyes!
Fixed: Jerry insisted that he saw the accident! (Could he have seen it with his ears?)
Example Six: Billy’s mother watched as her little toddler counted a total of ten pennies.
Fixed: Billy’s mother watched her toddler count ten pennies. (Let’s get rid of “as” first. Then ask yourself the question, “How many toddlers do you know who are big?” Delete “little.” And last, we don’t need “total of”.)
Now, we could go on and on, and on and on, and make a list a mile long of common redundant, reused words and errors, but by now, you’ve probably gotten the point. (Did you see any redundancy in my last sentence?) Yes, it’s quite easy to fill your manuscript with redundant words and phrases without blinking an eye. But once you get a handle on how tricky redundancy is, you’ll be able to rewrite your work and find that publisher who wants it much faster.
Next time, we’ll look at my Pet Peeve of all the errors—Mistake Number Ten: Passive Verbs instead of Active Verbs.