I’ve been thinking a lot about redundancy in the last week because I am editing a book that has been a long time in coming. I want the fans that have been waiting for this book to be pleased, as much as I want new readers to be impressed. I was able to recapture the series character voices, the plot was solid, but something was amiss with the writing.
While I was redlining the phrase ‘she turned her head’ for the twenty-fifth time, I realized that much of my description was redundant. I’ve suffered through this before, but this time instead of instead of soldering on I set aside my work and went for the dictionary. The definition of the word redundant was richer and more nuanced than I realized and each definition could be applied to my work.
Redundancy, as I understand it, is characterized as a similarity or repetitiveness. This made sense in terms of the edit I made to delete a recurring phrase. The dictionary further defined the word as describing something exceeding the normal, superfluous, and containing excess. Finally, redundant may be used to describe the profuse or lavish. These definitions were inspiring when applied to the craft of writing. In fact, I realized my WIP suffered greatly from redundancy.
Always chasing a higher word count, I was excessive in my use of conjunctions, verbs and adverbs. My style was buried under unnecessary words and phrases. Each passage became overly formal, lacking grace and fluidity. I had a tendency to say the same things in different ways as if my reader wouldn’t get the point the first time. My love of alliterations, similies, idioms and hyperbole were profuse and lavish to the point of distraction.
The bottom line is this: by attempting to create a memorable work I had, instead, created a book that would be unnecessarily difficult to read. The red pen had already been put to good use, but now I am making the next pass with all the definitions of redundancy top of mind. Already my writing is more precise, the characters are freed from the weight of unnecessary dialogue, and the descriptions of time and place are clearer.
It’s true that you learn something new everyday, and that’s one redundancy I can live with.
A Slice of Orange is delighted to welcome poet, Neetu to our rotation of authors.
Neetu’s poetry is an expression of life’s rhythms and the beat of the human spirit. She draws upon diverse multicultural experiences and observations across three continents in which she has lived. She has contributed to The Australia Times Poetry Magazine, October Hill Magazine, Prachya Review, among others. Her poems have appeared in The Poetic Bond Anthology V and VI published by Willowdown Books, UK, NY Literary Magazine’s Tears Anthology and Poetic Imagination Anthology (Canada).
Neetu lives in Pennsylvania, USA and will be publishing a poem on the 26th of each month here on A Slice of Orange. Her column will be titled Poet’s Day.
In the shapeless hours
of an endless night
the old clock
I hear it chime once
a labored groan, only half-shrill
I do not need to look
at its brass pendulum
to know it is still
all I know this time
unlike all other times is
its motion cannot
© Neetu Malik
Words are a writer’s ingredients. We love words – obscure words, descriptive or emotional words, those sets that make up the language of a specialty. Creating a passage of the perfect words hits the poetic, emotional and dramatic sweet spot — it’s more satisfying than a perfectly risen soufflé. Those words are not always based on literal meaning; otherwise Oscar Wilde would never have written: “The curves of your lips rewrite history.”
I have always been taken with the vocabulary of cooking. This is probably because I can’t cook. Maybe I think if I learn that vocabulary I can wield it like an incantation and my split pea soup will magically look less frightening, smell inviting and even taste good. It hasn’t worked but culinary terms, as a set of words, continue to surprise me — they’re just so aggressive.
Macerate, whip, beat, truss, pulverize, grind, batter, beat, scald. Whoa! All this to get something beautiful, delicious and nutritious? It works for most cooks. No matter how I slice or dice, shred, mince or mash, it seldom works for me. Must be in how you understand the terms and in nuance of use. Culinary terms work just as well to describe a cage fight as they do with a recipe for Angel Food cake.
Jared didn’t blanch facing the mountain that was Killdeer Kilze. He’d whip this fight up – he had to – the kids hadn’t eaten in two days. Time to mince this guy and reduce his essence. Zest infused Jared’s system, juicing his blood as he minced the mountain’s nose with one lethal chop, shred his kneecap with another. Scalded by the roar of the drunken crowd he beat at the massive chest, macerating the ribs. Sliced, diced and filleted to perfection, Killdeer Kilze lay trussed like the appetizer he was. The kids would dine well tonight.
Cooking is a gentle, homey pursuit – though some of those chef shows can be down right bloody so maybe it’s the competitive aspect that accounts for the aggressive feel. These words aren’t really homonyms. They sound alike and are spelled alike but they don’t have different meanings. The difference is in the sense of the meaning.
Linguists and other learned folk call this fine distinction, Polysemy. It’s the distinction that good writers always make. It’s part of why poetry can rock your world. Seeking just the right words with just the right nuance can make a love scene monumental rather than simply sweet, or enfold the reader in the sight, smell and sound of a setting. It’s the choice and use of the right words that makes a story linger in the reader’s heart — something every writer wants.
I do wonder how our language developed to make this particular set of words work for such opposing concepts. Is there a conflicted warrior inside every woman? I don’t know but if I dig far enough I’m sure theories abound. And while I ponder this conundrum I do it…again. I fritter my time away on obscure concepts and my carefully mixed cornbread hits the cooling rack and bounces. It sounds like a hollow rock. Clearly, it takes more than knowing the right language to make a great cook. But it is knowing the right nuanced words that makes a great book.
Hispanola, which means the “Spanish island,” became the first Spanish settlement in America. It is my mother’s native country and today we know the eastern section of the island as the Dominican Republic; a fertile land abundant in mines and minerals and rich in a great variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and flowers, where the sun shines brightly year round.
The merengue, the country’s traditional music, embraces you throughout the island for dancing is an entirely social activity independent of holidays or festivals. Any gathering includes dancing because Dominican’s don’t just listen to music, they live it. Emotionally, the merengue celebrates life wherein you partake of the rhythms of love, family and friendship. The most skilled dancer moves in unity with their partner, as one.
My mother, Celina Antonia Luna de Jorge, (isn’t that lovely? Like a song in itself), left her beautiful, beloved island, and part of her heart, when she came to America at the age of seventeen. Like most of our ancestors, her family traveled to America in the hope of a better future. I’m happy to say that she found it. (She had me!).
Mom is most fully herself, most fully alive when she is surrounded by her family and cooking us all of the traditional delicious foods of her country. She fills and satisfies us with her peace and joy. And like the savory aromas that waft through the air, she makes our hearts swirl to the rhythms of her warmth and love.
And that’s what I want my writing to be like; a dance of words wherein writer and reader move in sync and taste the flavors of love, friendship, loss and new found purpose, joy and laughter. Writing that, in spite of sorrowful events or hardships, celebrates life and fills the reader with hope that today is indeed worth living.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!
See you next time on June 22nd.
The painter stares at the canvas waiting for an image to appear. Patiently, he waits until a faint imprint of a landscape or a face emerges. He then grabs a brush and dabs it into the paint on his palette, making haste to reach the canvas with his brush to capture the image. The artist contrasts shade and light. He tightens or increases space. His brush moves rhythmically or scratches across the linen to make the colors and texture warm or cool. The work he renders leaves the viewer feeling airy or heavy.
That’s how I feel when I write. I stare at a blank page as though something secret lay hidden deep within the fibers and emptiness, that by patiently waiting will reveal itself to me. So I wait…until a word, a phrase, or a picture appears.
Could it be that the blank screen or journal page is a powerful mirror able to enlighten my own ideas and thoughts? Is it I who write on the paper; or does the paper draw out what is inside of me?
My words pour out and my hand races across the page. My mind tries to keep up with both for they seem to move of their own volition depicting moments dark and light. Paragraphs heavy laden with emotion yield and give way to joy and humor, while spacing slows or hurries the reader along.
Finished, I sit back exhausted and, ignoring my headache, I read what I wrote. Awestruck, I ask, “Where did this come from?”
My trembling fingers turn the leaf to uncover a new blank page and my sweaty palm smooths the journal sheet flat. Pen in hand, I sit ready to capture another treasure. My eyes dilate seeking and waiting for new wonders to behold.
See you next time on May 22nd.
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