After the first chapter of my book was criticized, I extracted several sentences as good examples of the mistakes I made. Each exhibits redundant use of words. I have included a better sentence structure below each example.

Read each sentence and find words that have repetitive meaning and words that add nothing to the sentence. (1) Remember, your goal is to create a clean, clear, and concise sentence. And notice how much my sentences get shorter when I remove redundant and repetitive words. During rewrites, these redundancies become crucial. One of the many mistakes new writers make is to use too many words when they can at least say the same thing without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Example 1

With her mother’s words still in her ear, she ignored the unmarked, sealed envelope and tossed it in the trash.

Still does not add anything to the sentence. If you take it out, has the sentence changed? “…in his ear” is removed because where else would the words remain? The preposition is redundant. “… ignored…” should be deleted because “she” didn’t really ignore the envelope IF she threw it in the trash, did she?

Example 1 Fixed

With her mother’s words lingering, she tossed the unmarked, sealed envelope into the trash.

Example 2

Curious, she cocked her head to the side, then picked it up.

For cock your head means to tilt it to one side, or stand out in some way. So, cocked Y by the side could be interpreted to mean the same thing and make the award seem redundant. Also, the sentence is read as if “she” picked up his head.(one)

Example 2 Fixed

Curious, she cocked her head, then picked up the envelope.

Example 3

He straightened the folds of the letter as he walked to the window and looked down at the snow that formed soft white mounds on his 37 acres.

There is no need to “like her”. Removing it and adding a comma reduces the wording. “…looked down.” What you didn’t know about this scene is that the woman is in the attic.

English gurus tell us to avoid directional terms. Erase “below.” Here’s a better example: “She looked up in the sky.” Erase up. Why? Because heaven is always UP, never down. Just say “she looked at the sky.”

The next elimination was “smooth“We all think of snow as soft. If you erase it”smooth“Does it take something away from what is said? No. Then delete it.

Why delete “white?” Is snow a different color? Snow is always white. Saying it is redundant and deleting it reduces the word count. See how redundancy can interfere with clarity?

Example 3 Fixed

Straightening the folds of the letter, he walked to the window and looked out at the mounds of snow that formed on his 37 acres.

Example 4

She wiped away a tear and promised not to cry.

Although this sentence is short and you wouldn’t think it would be a problem, it has one word too many. Also, the sentence sounds like she “lost” her tear when she wiped it away. I didn’t want the reader to understand the sentence that way, so I dropped “at”. The correct sentence below gives the reader the impression that she “wiped away a tear” in haste or anger.

Example 4 Fixed

She wiped away a tear and promised not to cry.

Example 5

Melba stood in the bathroom doorway and sneered at the box.

Check your writing and delete each from, and, but, to, then, was, been, am, is, being, were, Y that where possible. You’ll end up with smoother prose, less stinky articles, and fewer “to be” verbs.

Example 5 Fixed

Melba stood in the bathroom doorway and sneered at the box.

Example 6

As the only child of Lucille Jeffries, Melba might sympathize a bit with her mother’s concern to take care of her.

The general rule here is to avoid qualifiers like rather, very, little, pretty, a littleetc(2)

Example 6 Fixed

As the only child of Lucille Jeffries, Melba sympathized with her mother’s concern to care for her.

Example 7

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 does not always turn out as expected. We do it to emphasize. I like it, but it’s redundant.

Example 7 Fixed

She dug her nails into another seam and ripped again until her elbows and shoulders burned with pain.

Or if you want to convey that the “tear” continued, you can rewrite it as:

She dug her nails into another seam and continued ripping the wallpaper until her elbows and shoulders burned with pain.

I hope these tips work for you and that I have provided you with information to write better. I am learning as I go and I look forward to taking you on the journey with me.

Happy writing!

[1] Style – Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams – Ninth Edition, Pearson Longman, 2007 (pp. 112, 113).

[2] How Not to Miswrite: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them by Ben Yagoda, Riverhead Books, 2013 (p. 113).

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