Creative Writing: Redundancies, Synonyms, and Editing IN Mistakes (UGH!)

The old time equivalent of the red pen??? Maybe???

The old time equivalent of the red pen??? Maybe???

I’m about halfway through my first proof copy of “The King’s Sons.” I’m doing a full edit, not just proofreading, and some of the things I’m changing are little things that are making a big difference. I love that!!! It never ceases to amaze me how much the quality of a paragraph can increase after a relatively minor tweak when I’m editing. For instance:

  • Random typos. And punctuation errors. I’m not finding too many; hopefully that means they’re not there and not that I’m missing them! (I plan to order a second proof copy when I’m done with making changes to this one to simply proofread.)
  • Sometimes, just realizing a snippet of dialogue is a bit too learned for the character speaking and changing it goes a long way to increasing readability and credibility. A villain who’s a cobbler might have made a point of educating himself, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’d say, “I deemed it more expedient to….” He’d probably say something like, “I judged it more to the point.” Yeah. Can’t believe I kept that first option in the draft for as long as I did.
  • I still have characters’ eyes changing colors throughout the novel. UGH! Why, Victoria? WHY? This kind of inconsistency drives me batty. Especially since I have a stinking character list with physical descriptions on my computer.
  • Getting rid of adverbs. And wordy phrases that I overuse, such as “He couldn’t help but notice….” How about a simple “He noticed” or “He marked” or “He saw”? Remember, less is better. Simpler is preferred on the vast majority of occasions.

EDITING IN MISTAKES. WE ALL DO IT!

One thing that really annoys me, though–and the real purpose of this post–is that I get angry about all the problems I edit into my novel. Mainly, this involves redundancies. You know… you see you use one word twice in a paragraph, so you change one of them to a synonym, only to realize later the synonym appears in the paragraph above pretty close to the end and using it twice doesn’t sound much better than what you had originally. That happens to me a lot.

I’m really big on trying to vary word choice when possible within sections that are pretty close together: say, adjoining paragraphs or sentences within the same paragraph especially. It can be hard: “wall,” for instance, can be a chore to replace. And “floor.” Depending on context, “hand” and “arm” can be interchangeable. (“an arm around…” vs “a hand on…”). So can “hand” and “fingers” and/or “palm.”

Character names, depending on who the character is and the context of the reference, can also be tough to change. You’re getting the picture by this point. What I’m saying is: whenever I can make a synonym work, it’s golden. Sometimes, one of the clauses in which the offending word appears can be cut. That’s the simplest fix there is!

FIXING REDUNDANCY: A WORD OF CAUTION

There’s a temptation when fixing redundancies to go for a word that’s not a real fit, just to have something different. It’s too upper-crust or unusual or perhaps too plain. Its connotations don’t fit your tone or style. Don’t pick a synonym just because it’s different from the word that first came to your head: especially if it’s not a word you genuinely thought of but had to look up in an online or print thesaurus.

And remember there’s a difference between dialogue and narration. I will upon very rare occasion (say, once a novel) use the word “descry.” With my personal style of third person narration, it works for me in limited circumstances: such as, describing what is visible down the road in a setting and a culture reminiscent of an urban area during the late Middle Ages. I felt using an old-timey verb to describe the setting really helps to bring about the tone and the images and the overall vibe I’m going for. I wouldn’t really use that word in dialogue, though. Way too stilted for my characters.

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31 responses to “Creative Writing: Redundancies, Synonyms, and Editing IN Mistakes (UGH!)

  1. I feel your pain! It’s hair for me. Most of my characters have the same coloured eyes (racial trait), so if someone has a different colour it’s easy enough to remember. I’ve even drawn little sketches of characters to remind me of their hair colour and look, but I still forget sometimes :P. I tend to devote an editing session purely to ensure continuity in appearance.

    Really good tip regarding word choices. I often fall into the same trap.

    It’s refreshing to see someone reveal their struggle with self-editing. A lot people I’ve found on the interwebs seem to have a weird god-complex regarding themselves. Very boring, because we all know its not true ;).

    Thanks,
    Cortez

    • oh my gosh, you’re so right! I hadn’t considered that God complex you mention, because I tend to suffer from an inferiority complex instead (haha!), but you’re so right. We should all, always, have someone else–probably multiple someones–read through our own work. Thanks so much for stopping by, Cortez!

      It’s definitely good to realize I’m not alone with the editing woes!

  2. angel7090695001

    I have a bad habit of using the same word twice in a paragraph. Like intense pain is a phrase I use a lot (too much.)

    • I think we all have phrases like that. I definitely do: my characters “smile” way too much, for sure. One of my fav pieces of writing advice (from Melisa Foster of World Literary Cafe) is to do a search in your doc for the phrase and replace as many instances of it as you can with something else.

      • angel7090695001

        Is The Magic Council the first book in the series because I got it when it was free and I wondered if it would spoil the series.

  3. I can never edit my own work very well– that’s why we all need editors, I think.

  4. It’s funny but I had written physical descriptions of my characters but changed them so much throughout the book that they were obsolete. Thanks for reminding me to update them!
    As for using obscure words, I find I do it when I just can’t think of a good synonym that I want so I end up putting in some outrageous word that totally does not fit like behooved instead of confused or something to that effect, to remind me every time I see it that I need to fix it. Sometimes I just can’t fix certain mistakes right away so I want to make them stand out later when I have time to fix them or have come up with a better word or phrase.

    • ooh, that’s a good trick!!! i do something similiar: during read-throughs and such I sometimes make a word or phrase bold if I know it has issues for some reason but don’t know quite what to do to fix it.

  5. Ah yes, trying to find alternatives when you use the same word ten times on the same page! Arrgh.
    And you’re right – certain words are really awkward to find synonyms for. I was struggling today with ‘eye’. Not many alternatives… ‘orb’ or ‘organ of sight’ just don’t quite flow!

    • ugh!!! yikes! yes, there’s really no other way to talk about eye that makes sense. You have to completely rearrange a sentence to make it say something else, to use a verb instead or something like that. If that’s even possible, because sometimes it’s not if you’re not talking about gazing at something, but the actual eye itself :0/

  6. It’s so true! Sometimes you’ll write something and realize that you use the same phrase too often.

  7. Pingback: Editing | Emily's Tea Leaves

  8. I’m terrible for using the same stock phrases over and over and I never realised until I started writing a novel in installments, editing each installment daily. I’m much more aware now that I use ‘thudding hearts’ far too often, I have the word ‘smile’ at least twice in every installment and every sentence seems to start with ‘Claire’ ‘She’ or ‘Her’. It’s making me paranoid. ‘Smile’ is the worst though: what other word is there? ‘Grin’ is too specific and physical descriptions like ‘crinkled her eyes’ or ‘raised the corners of her mouth’ or ‘laughed / giggled / sniggered’ just don’t work! Editing is way harder than writing.
    Love some of the suggestions here like using behooved, although knowing my luck I’d forget to change them!
    Really like the idea of sketches of characters to remember physical characteristics. Thank goodness for Word’s search function or eye colours (and often names!) would change all the time. I used to look for stock photograph images of models who were close to my characters but then realised I was spending WAY too long trying to find exactly the right person to match the one in my mind. I don’t need reasons to get distracted from writing!

    • Oh my gosh I distract myself way too much too! Never tried the stock photo for characters idea, though. That’s actualyl kind of brilliant! Super brilliant, if like you said, you don’t spend all day on it.

      And smile is the worst because there really is nothing you can change it to. I tend to just cut completely. And when I can–for instance, if the characters my POV character–say something else to imply the emotions that had her smiling.

      • Stock photography is brilliant although hubbie felt awkward searching for a twelve-year-old boy for his MG novel! πŸ™‚ The best thing about using models is you often see them in lots of different clothes, poses, moods etc so describing them is easier. I found a great model for one of my novels, including a shot for the front cover (a bonus!)
        I like finding houses too – I used to post it all to Pinterest until I got worried about being sued for breach of copyright! Now I print out and paste into a scrap book. Actually I’ve got lazy about doing it: maybe I should take my own advice!
        Implying emotion is part of the craft I’m still working on. I try to show not tell and I have the emotion thesaurus thing, but I still struggle. Have to spend more time with happy people! πŸ™‚

        • i LOVE the scrapbook idea. Fun fun fun! πŸ™‚ thanks so much for sharing your process with all of us!!! I never would have thought of stock photo images to glimpse as characters on my own.

        • Also, I need to get that emotion thesaurus thing. I still don’t have it! 😦

        • I was lucky enough to catch it at release and download it for free. It is useful although I don’t use it as often as I should: the ideas are often for long character development rather than fixing a one-line issue.
          Happy to help with the scrapbook idea – it’s reminded me about it so that’s good, especially for the daily serial I’m writing. The beauty of blogging! πŸ™‚

  9. great article you got here, thanks alot for making it available!

  10. I feel your pain. I paste portions of my story into a cloud generator to check and make sure I’m not over-using a favorite word. Cloud generators make the words you use the most larger than any other word, so if “Moment” is suspended like a huge moon over all the other words in your book…you probably use it too much. πŸ˜›

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