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Lexical Redundancies: A Need for a Cleaner, Easy-to-Read Text

Posted by CW64 on July 16, 2012

As an editor, I have come across a variety of redundancies. Beginning writers especially tend to harbor these ongoing no-nos when laying out their drafts.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against beginners—I was one once as well—but my experience as both a writer and an editor have honed my skill of observation. I am patient and extremely open to those who are just starting out in their careers. This is exciting for me, just as it is for them. For that reason, I always look forward to sharing my insights, as I am doing now through my blog.

One of the most common forms of repetition I find is, what I call, the lexical redundancy. This phenomenon denotes the overuse of words, especially in close proximity, as in the same sentence, passage or paragraph.

Take, for instance, the following example:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then from there went to the grocery store to buy groceries. The only store in town that sold the kind of groceries she wanted was Maverick’s Groceries.”

Okay, this passage includes more than one type of redundancy, but the one in question—the lexical redundancy—is quite clear. The reuse of the same words flattens the text and makes the writing uninteresting. Therein lies why this phenomenon is deemed a writing weakness.

Some writers (i.e. beginners) are likely to read this and say “Well, the passage is clear and makes sense, right? That’s all that should matter, so what’s the problem?”

On the level of intelligibility and coherency, that’s exactly right. However, when one is writing fiction, creativity is crucial, and that deals with language, among other things. The characters and worlds we conceive are dependent on how we write them, on the language we use to express descriptions, actions and dialogue within a story. In light of this, the words we use are extremely important.

A “policeman in uniform” is not as descriptive or as dynamic as “the blue knight,” the latter of which offers more than the merely description provided by the former. For that reason, variation brings forth color and depth that not only allow the characters and their worlds to stand out, but also makes for interesting reading.

So how do we improve the above example? Well, first off, determine which words are overused and why. Here, we have a few: “store” (3 times), “went” (2 times) and “grocery” (4 times). Their purpose is, evidently, to clarify, or ‘spell out,” the character’s actions. That’s noble enough, but that can be done through text-condensing and word change. The first technique alone might solve the redundancy problem by simply eliminating unnecessary words.

Okay, let’s take a look at that passage again. I will repost it here so you don’t have to scroll back up to read it:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then from there went to the grocery store to buy groceries. The only store in town that sold the kind of groceries she wanted was Maverick’s Groceries.”

Now, we can work on it. The first sentence has two “stores” and a reiteration of the action verb “went”. How can we cut that down? Well, the first “store” fits because it is part of reference (to say only “convenience” is an incomplete thought), so it stays, as does the initial verb “went” because it let’s us know right away about Mary’s action.

The second half if the sentence (i.e. the subordinate clause), however, can drop those words because they aren’t necessary. First, the second “went” is not required, and the two “grocery” references can be omitted altogether. “Market” replaces “grocery store,” which hits two birds with one stone by eliminating one “grocery” and one “store”. The phrase “to buy groceries” is a content redundancy because we already know what Mary is going to buy at the second stop.

So here we have a revised first sentence:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then to the market.”

As you see, not only do the word repetitions fall away, but the entire passage is economized with regard to word count. The sentence gets right to the point and reads better in a clear and simple form of expression.

How about the second part of that example?

Here it is:

“The only store in town that sold the kind of groceries she wanted was Maverick’s Groceries.”

What can be done here? Let’s see …

Well, the first form of “grocery” can be thrown out because we already know that this is a given with Mary. The instance in the market title can go, too. Although it is part of the business name, the first word can stand alone clearly. As for the “store” at the beginning of the sentence, what other word can we substitute to cancel out the redundancy and ensure that the sentence remains coherent and intelligible? How about the simple and everyday “place”? This will work. Take a look at the revised version of the sentence:

“The only place in town that sold what Mary wanted was Maverick’s.”

Yet, again, we have a simple statement that is right to the point. Now, let’s put the two sentences together and see how the new passage reads:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then to the market. The only place in town that sold what Mary wanted was Maverick’s.”

Does this example contain any further lexical redundancies? Is the passage clear and understood? Does it make sense?

With a bit of deductive reasoning and some careful and objective editing, a piece of writing can read easy and clean, and this will always impress editors and publishers.

The Reality of Public Perception

The closing statement in the previous section touches on an issue that continues in many debates between writers and editors. That issue serves as a universal contention for many reasons.

Public perception can either make or break a writer’s chance for success. This is an obvious reality. The ideal that a writer’s opinion of her/his own work being all that matters is a logical fallacy. Even though that notion does make sense (to a degree), it is not consistent with the way the writing and publishing industries really are.

Lexical redundancies can directly affect a writer’s level of vocabulary. A short range of terminology, as seen by the ongoing reuse of words, leaves writers appearing limited at best. That does not attract the confidence of either publishers or readers, both of whom seek wit and sophistication to stimulate their minds. Readers won’t buy materials exhibiting overwrought terms and expressions, and publishers won’t take a chance on them because they know such works appear dull and unprofessional and will likely not sell.

Does this sting?

If it does, that’s good.

This is why editing is so important and why a broad cache of words and expressions is necessary for writers to improve their work. As demonstrated above, the removal of all lexical redundancies rendered the example passage easy-to-read while maintaining proper grammar and syntax. Loquaciousness (a state of being long and wordy) quite often renders writing drawn out and confusing, and that turns off even the worst readers.

To come: Show, don’t Tell – Another common issue in writing.

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