Happy Thursday, writers! I was hard at work on a few manuscripts over the last week when I noticed a recurring, but simple issue: redundancy.
Redundancy occurs when a writer continually reiterates phrases, concepts, or facts in their manuscript—like mentioning their MC’s eye color several times or pointing out that the MC’s best friend has lived a hard life on more than one occasion. One example I’ve always used is a simple sentence: “She felt the heat of the hot stove.” This is a basic instance of redundancy; you’ll notice that you don’t need to say that the stove radiates heat and that it’s hot—either one will do just fine.
In your first draft, you can expect to have some occurrences of redundancy, especially if you’re a “pantser.” You’re making up the story as you go, so it’s totally normal to fall back on the facts that you’ve already decided. Alternatively, I’ve seen authors plan out their characters with a worksheet of some sort, then forget which points from the sheet they’ve already included in the story—so a lot of times, stuff ends up making it into the manuscript more than once. And while it’s okay to have some of these redundancies the first time around, you want to eliminate them A.S.A.P.
If you allow redundancies to remain your manuscript, one of two things will happen:
One, your reader will be upset with you for calling them stupid. When you repeat key facts in the narrative, your readers feel like you’re insulting their memory. They think, “She already said that, does she think I’m too dumb to remember?” You don’t want them to feel like you don’t trust their ability to remember the important details.
Two, your reader will start skipping passages. If the same basic concept keeps occurring again and again in the novel, your readers are going to notice—and they’re going to feel like you’re wasting their time. You never, ever want to waste a reader’s time! (That’s why we always preach that every word should move the story along!)
SO HOW CAN WE FIX IT?
There are two general methods for eliminating redundancy: first, by avoiding it altogether, and second, by cutting it from the manuscript after.
If you’re attempting to do the former, some of these tips for avoiding redundancy from the start might be useful for you:
1. Instead of developing each detail of your character before-hand, keep a running log of their traits as you write. This will ensure that you know exactly what was mentioned (and when) without having to go back through the whole manuscript.
2. Work chronologically. For some of us, this just isn’t an option—we’re just the kind of people who work all out of order! But working in sequence can actually help you eliminate redundancy, because you’re more likely to remember what you’ve already mentioned, and you know that if you mentioned it already at all, it will appear before the section you’re currently writing—so you know you don’t have to point out a fact for the reader to know what’s going on; they already read it earlier in the book.
3. If you find yourself repeating entire plot lines or concepts a lot, ask yourself if this story really should be a novel. There’s nothing wrong or shameful with writing a good short story, but there’s a lot of shame involved in writing a bad novel! If only one real conflict occurs repeatedly throughout your text, maybe it’s time to trim, trim, trim.
Alternatively, if you’ve already finished your first draft, and you’re in the editing/revising phase, here are some things you can do to help self-edit redundancy out of your narrative:
4. The easiest method is to simply read over your manuscript and try to catch any instances of repetition. Give yourself a day or two break from your novel, then come back and read it. You’ll probably notice if you repeated something if you distance yourself for enough time! (This also works great to help you find inconsistencies and plot holes!)
5. Alternatively, read it out loud! A popular writing coach from my college always said that there was no better way to find errors in written text than to read your work aloud. Sure, it sounds awkward, but it’s totally worth it if it helps you find the major issues in your text. If you wouldn’t say it out loud, or it doesn’t make sense out loud, then you probably need to change your wording!
All of the stuff I mentioned in this post is way easier said than done (obviously), but hopefully I gave you some ideas on how to remedy at least some of the redundancies in your W.I.P. Do you have any other tips to help your fellow writers? Share in the comments!