All those unnecessary words

At what point do extra words become unnecessary? As a writer, I’m always looking to make my prose more full and interesting. I’m always looking for a way to make the writing as exciting as the story. After all, why simply say “It was an overcast day and looked like it might rain” when you could say “The sky was heavy with pregnant, leaden clouds, pressing down, reaching for the ground with the promise of torrential downpours”? Other than sounding like a wanker, of course, which is always a problem when you try too hard with something like this.

Very often, extra words are simply the same things said twice. Sometimes it can work, in that rounding out of prose way, but sometimes it’s just poor writing. A writer on one of the forums I frequent, by the name of David, came up with this list called:

Wasted Words

(Or: how I learned to stop padding out my writing and start saying what I really meant.)

As if by magic, I shall reduce each of these clichéd phrases to a single word without losing any of the meaning!

“Plummet down to Earth” = “Plummet”

Plummet means falling down. Nothing plummets in any direction other than down.

“New innovation” = “Innovation”

If it’s an innovation, it’s new by definition.

“Surrounded on all sides” = “Surrounded”

How can you be surrounded on anything less than all sides?

“Red in colour”

Er… you mean, it’s “red”?

“Razed to the ground” = “Razed”

The definition of “razed” includes “to the ground”.

“Exactly the same” = “The same”

Unless you really think your audience will think you mean “inexactly the same”… no? thought not…

“Close proximity” = “Close”

“Proximity” means “close”. You’re saying “close close”. Duh!

“Free gift” = “Gift”

When is a gift anything other than free?

“In the field of biology” = “In biology”

Biology is already a field. (Ditto for all other fields of study.)

“Collaborate together” = “Collaborate”

Because when have you ever known anybody collaborate separately?

“Temporary reprieve” = “Reprieve”

A reprieve is automatically temporary. Otherwise it’s not a reprieve, it’s a pardon (or equivalent).

“Consensus of opinion” = “Consensus”

Just look up the definition of “consensus”, ok?

“Personal opinion” = “Opinion”

Unless you can prove to me that an opinion can be impersonal

“Round in shape” = “Round”

See “red in colour”, above.

“Future plans” = “Plans”

I’ll let you off if you’re doing a time travel story, otherwise I challenge you to write something in which your plans are not in the future.

“Close scrutiny” = “Scrutiny”

Distant scrutiny is not scrutiny, it’s just a hopeful sort of squint.

“Minute detail” = “Detail”

Because, well, you know…

“Shorter in length” = “Shorter”

Because you can’t be shorter in anything else. (No, don’t even try the “shorter in time” argument, I’ll just throw Einstein at you.)

“Prior experience” = “Experience”

Once more I will grant dispensations for a time travel story, otherwise there’s no such thing as future experience.

“Combine together” = “Combine”
“Exact replica” = “Replica”
“Revert back” = “Revert”

I really shouldn’t need to explain these by now!

“Patently obvious” = “Obvious”

Because what the heck does “patently” mean???

So, sure, David is being a bit pedantic. A bit of artistic licence can let a few things like that slide here and there. But think hard about it when you’re writing, as a lot of things like those in David’s list will just make you sound like an amateur. And when you’re reading, if you notice a lot of things like those examples in David’s list, perhaps you should stop reading Dan Brown and get into some seriously good authors.

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3 thoughts on “All those unnecessary words

  1. You know the fish thing? Someone comes to a shopkeeper at the markets with a sign saying “Fresh Fish Sold Here”

    Well did anyone think you were giving it away?

    “Fresh Fish Here”

    Surely you don’t need to spell out that it’s fresh.

    “Fish Here”

    Where else would people think you’re selling it?

    “Fish”

    Well, people can just follow their nose!

    (Works in any order, just remove “Fish” at the end)…

  2. And then, absolutely guaranteed, some muppet would wander along, look at all the fish and the smiling fishmonger and ask, “Is this fish for sale?”

    The fishmonger would say, “Of course, my friend!”

    And the muppet would ask, “Is it fresh?”

    🙂

  3. The other day I went to a supermarket to buy some salmon fillets and there on the bag it said “allergy advice – contains fish”. That was redundant. I’ve seen similar advice on milk about the milk content. Though the best remain the bag of hazelnuts with the warning “may contain nuts” – I’d complain if it didn’t.

    As to the words most of those come under the advice “don’t use qualifiers unless they add something to the meaning”.

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