Lately the Snarky Editor has been running across an unusual number of repetitive phrases. Most of them are thoughtless, because the author is just cruising along telling the story without stopping to think if the phrasing says something more than once. But all these repetitions cause the story pace to drag, and some bring the reader to a dead halt.
Floor-to-ceiling glass windows
Unless the window is made of something other than glass, we don’t need to specify. And if it isn’t regular glass (bullet-proof glass? Plexiglas? glass blocks?), that’s potentially an important detail and it would help the reader picture the scene.
She looked past me and nodded with her head.
What else can a human nod but a head? Though I guess I haven’t tried nodding my elbow.
He touched my arm with his hand.
It’s pretty safe to assume if we’re touching something, we’re using a hand. If we’re not, or if the touch is more specific (a fingertip?), then that’s worthy of comment.
She shrugged her shoulders
No other body part can be shrugged. (She shrugged her hips? Nope.) Saying She shrugged is plenty.
Sam took his foot and kicked in the window so they could climb through.
If he wasn’t using his foot, it wouldn’t be a kick, now would it?
She kicked the door shut behind her with the heel of her foot.
This one’s a triple – kick, heel, foot. She kicked the door shut behind her is all we need.
That’s weird, I silently thought.
A thought is a silent reflection. Yeah, sometimes we think out loud. That’s called “talking”.
I thought to myself
And all thoughts are to oneself. I thought means the same thing.
“I wonder if he’s acting this way because of me?” she thought privately.
“You’re extremely good,” she complimented.
If the dialogue line and the tag don’t match in feeling, then it’s helpful to spell out the distinction. (“You’re extremely good,” she said sarcastically.) But when the dialogue line says it so clearly, we don’t need to repeat the same meaning in the tag.
“I hope it hurts like an SOB,” Jake growled ferally.
This is just overkill, and it ends up feeling funny rather than threatening.
Her father was brutally murdered.
One murder can be bloodier, or gorier, or more violent than another one is. But every murder is brutal. (We wouldn’t say “Her father was gently murdered.”) Saying “brutally murdered” is a generality that doesn’t add to the story. Maybe use some specifics instead, so the reader knows more about this particular crime.
The Midwest lies in complete ruins after a catastrophic disaster kills tens of thousands.
Are complete ruins more ruined than just plain ruins are? And isn’t a disaster plenty bad on its own? Can a catastrophic disaster really be any worse than an ordinary disaster? Again, maybe share some specific details about what was ruined and how it looked — things that will help the reader picture and care about the results.
Most of the redundancies that creep into our stories are accidental. The time to fix them isn’t when we’re writing, because pausing to contemplate the value of I thought versus I thought to myself only slows our progress.
But when the story’s all on paper and it’s editing time? Catch those repetitions and kill ’em dead.
(And yes, the Snarky Editor just used a redundancy – to make the point.)
The Snarky Editor comes out of hiding occasionally to comment on the awkward, silly, and sometimes hilarious editing errors found in published books.