After having the first chapter of my book critiqued, these are the mistakes I made. These sentences are good examples of redundant word usage as mentioned in my previous article. I’ve included a better sentence structure below each example.
Read each sentence and find words that are repetitive in meaning, and words that add nothing to the sentence. Remember, your objective is to come up with a clean, clear, and concise sentence. And notice how much shorter my sentences become when I delete redundant and repetitive words. During rewrites, deleting redundant words becomes crucial. Using too many words is a new writer’s biggest downfall.
With her mother’s words still lingering in her ear, she ignored the sealed, unmarked envelope and placed it in the trash pile.
Still doesn’t add anything to the sentence. If you take it out, has it changed the sentence? “…in her ear” is deleted because where else would words linger? The preposition is redundant. “…ignored…” should be deleted because “she” didn’t really ignore the envelope IF she placed it in the trash, did she? I restructured the sentence as follows:
=Example 1 Corrected=
With her mother’s words lingering, she placed the sealed, unmarked envelope in the trash.
Curious, she cocked her head to the side then picked it up.
To cock your head means to lean it to the side. So, cocked and to the side mean the same thing and come off as redundant. Also, the way the sentence reads, it sounds as if “she” picked up her head.
=Example 2 Corrected=
Curious, she cocked her head then she picked up the envelope.
She straightened the folds of the letter, as she walked toward the window, and peered down at the snow forming soft white mounds onto her 37 acres.
No need for “as she.” Deleting it and adding a comma cuts down on wording. “…peered down.” What you didn’t know about this scene is that the woman is in the attic.
Second, the English gurus tell us that directional terms should be avoided. Delete “down.” For example, do you really need to say “she looked up at the sky?” Of course not. Simply say “she looked at the sky.” Why? Because the sky is always UP, never down.
The next deletion was “soft.” Snow is always soft, maybe not as soft as cotton if it’s mixed with ice, but all of us think of snow as soft. It’s an automatic way of thinking. If you delete “soft” does it take away from what is being said? No. Then delete it.
Why delete “white?” Is snow another color? Snow is always white. It’s redundant to say it and deleting it cuts down on word count. You see how redundancy can get in the way of clarity?
=Example 3 Corrected=
She straightened the folds of the letter, walked toward the window, and peered at the snow forming mounds onto her 37 acres.
She swiped at a tear and promised not to cry.
Though this sentence is short and you wouldn’t think it’s a problem, it has one word too many. In addition, the sentence as it is written sounds like she “missed” the tear when she swiped at it. I didn’t want the sentence to come off that way to the reader so I deleted “at.” Now it sounds like she “swiped a tear” and it comes across like she was irritated, agitated, or in a hurry when she did so.
=Example 4 Corrected=
She swiped a tear and promised not to cry.
Melba stood in the doorway of the bathroom and stared at the box with contempt.
Remember the list of words I said needed to be deleted in Writing Tips – No. 1? Go through your writing and delete every of, and, but, to, then, was, been, am, is, being, were, and that wherever possible. You will see how smooth your writing sounds and flows when you rid yourself of these pesty articles and “to be” verbs. I’m not trying to say you should “never” use them. Just use them sparingly.
=Example 5 Corrected=
Melba stood in the bathroom doorway and stared at the box with contempt.
As Lucille Jeffries’ only child, Melba could somewhat sympathize with her mother’s concern to take care of her.
The general rule here is to avoid qualifiers such as rather, very, little, pretty, etc. And if you delete “could” and add a “d” to sympathize, that would shorten the sentence even more.
=Example 6 Corrected=
As Lucille Jeffries’ only child, Melba sympathized with her mother’s concern to take care of her.
She dug her nails into another seam and ripped again and again until her elbows and shoulders burned with pain.
Repeating a word or phrase doesn’t always come across as we [would like] intended. We do it for emphasis. I [kind of] like it, but it is redundant. (See how I deleted redundancy from this comment.)
=Example 7 Corrected=
She dug her nails into another seam and ripped the wallpaper until her elbows and shoulders burned with pain.
Or if you want to convey [that] the “ripping” [went on and on] continued, you [could] might rewrite it as:
She dug her nails into another seam and continued to rip the wallpaper until her elbows and shoulders burned with pain.
I hope these tips work for you and that I’ve provided insight to better writing techniques. I’m learning as I go and hoping to take you with me for the ride.
NOTE: The words in brackets are words I originally used. After proofing this article, I realized these words needed to be substituted with better ones. There was no way to “strikeout” the word using the Yahoo editing program so I placed them in brackets.