Writing redundancies, ok

Editing is an opportunity, not just to examine writing for mistakes, errors or problems, but to reframe thinking. For example, I’ve had feedback on haiku which found ways to make each work say more with even less. If my modern haiku had redundancies, I’m certain my stories do. Yours might too.

I’ve categorised these redundancies below.

Too many words

I’ve done this: use all the words in an attempt to make something understood. But I learned my lesson when editing stories to fit word counts. I know too, there is never a guarantee a reader understands no matter how many or how few words used. For instance, how many people don’t understand the single word sentence ‘no’? As for understanding, too many words can be as much as barrier to understanding as too few. It’s about using necessary words and eliminating the rest. For instance, when editing I take out almost every use of the word that. That is passive and rarely adds clarity.

Another redundancy I’ve noticed writers using is ‘out’ after words describing speech – like rasped out, gasped out, shouted out – these are clutter. If your reader doesn’t understand rasped and shouted, the word ‘out’ isn’t going to help. So, cut it out. Trust your reader to detect volume and tone from the speech, description, and the actions of the speakers.

And another thing. Too many ands. Ands are helpful, but variation in sentence length and structure helps reader alertness. Deleting and for punchier sentences aids alertness.

Temporal redundancies

I read a bit of historical fiction, and sometimes I write short historical fiction. The one expression I read over and over, and which breaks the spell are characters using the word okay. The use of OK, ok, or okay, takes me out of the story because the word wasn’t used until the early 1800s. Ok is also a verbal tic infecting dialogue that doesn’t need it. The phrase ‘I am okay’ can be replaced by character action (shrug, nod, hand wave, head shake) or a simple yes or no. Okay as a question can be replaced with ‘are you well?’ or ‘will you be well? or ‘are you all right?’ or a raised eyebrow. If characters need to seek affirmation or confirmation, using something in the realm of historically accurate is best.

I’ve also read historical fiction where characters use the word guys, which wasn’t on until after Guy Faulks was doing his thing. Generally, how you speak now, is not how people spoke way back when. Accents change, words change their meaning, old words are lost and new words are invented. As writer, you don’t need to change everything to thou and thee, but think about dropping the dudes, guys and oks.

Location redundancies

We all know the advice – write what you know. Sure, but writers also deal with what’s unfamiliar or even impossible. Generally, writing the unfamiliar doesn’t mean superimposing your experience and knowledge onto a different location, because readers will know. If your reader is me, they will laugh out loud. Let’s take one example where I did laugh. One story I read indicated a drive from Melbourne to Uluru would only require one coffee stop. Since I’ve completed journey, I know the drive entails at least one overnight stay, in addition to multiple stops for fuel, and food, because (and I blame maps for skewing how this continent is perceived) Australia is BIG. Imagine something big and double it. Twice. It takes ages to drive in Australia even when state borders aren’t closed. And we talk about travel not with distances, but in how long it takes to drive there, because, 5kms, 450kms, or 2000kms doesn’t account for the vehicle, personal crises, traffic, terrain, season, weather, access to fuel, or time of day. Also, it might take the same amount of time to drive 100km to another town as it takes to drive 30kms across Melbourne to the airport, when people can fly again. Trust me on that.

If you are going to write about somewhere unfamiliar there’s a couple of tricks. One trick – be non-specific, just add touches of something to indicate place. Trick two, go deep with highly detailed descriptions. See how both tricks require research? I said trick, I didn’t say shortcut. Research means checking everything, including what people call vehicles and whether brand names are used instead of generic names. Please don’t assume because nations share languages, they share everything. In Australia, a vehicle with a cab up front and a tray on the back is a ute (for utility vehicle). In the US, a ute is called a truck or a pickup truck, or pickup, but to Australians trucks are single or double semi-trailers, or what people in the UK call heavy goods vehicles or lorries. Of course, if one minor mention in 250,000 words is wrong, you might get away with it, but the shorter the story the more accurate it must be, because every word carries significance…like a truckload… a uteload.

Photo by anouar olh on Pexels.com

Cultural redundancies

As you can see, the thing about inserting your lived experience into somewhere or somewhen else is not everything is universal, or some experiences might be, but with different names. When details are wrong, it overrides the reasons you chose to set your story where you did. Inserting only what I know into places I don’t would demonstrate a failure to recognise the ways in which cultures differ, even ones which share languages, and especially given the diversity within countries. In Australia, locals enjoy debating minor regional lexicon differences regarding what to call food, clothing, and other items. Writers would be best not to further rile things using by the term TA to describe the role locally labelled tutor in your short fiction about an American studying in Australia, for instance. Unless…

It’s about choice

Say in this story, the American studying at an Australian university goes for a swim with friends. What the characters call what they wear while swimming depends on when, and where they swim, to what class they belong, and how old your swimmers are. If the writer gets it wrong, readers might know. But does it matter? In some cases, inaccuracy is a tool Maybe you want a description to highlight a temporal redundancy, because your story is speculative fiction set in a fake Australia and using the word ‘togs’ is a clue as normally your Australian characters would say ‘bathers’. Or, the story highlights how the American is an outsider to the debate the students engage in regarding Australian language. Or, it is a 250 word flash fiction, with no room for description. Easy, because you don’t always have to show your research. Anyway, now I really want to go swimming.

At the risk of using too many words and thus demonstrating my own redundancy, that’s about it. K?

2021 Writing Update

  • Pending submissions: 33
  • Rejections: 45
  • Publications: 3

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