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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Redundancy

   
Author Topic: Redundancy
Kolona
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Something RetinoBlastoma wrote on a F&F thread caught my attention:

quote:
there are alot of redundancies

It's generally sound advice not to be redundant, but I'm finding that readers all read differently, picking up different things and missing others. It seems the only way to try to circumvent this is to be redundant and give the reader more opportunities to pick up a particular point.

Any thoughts?


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Isaiah13
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Depends on the situation, I suppose. If a character is living a redundant life, and you want to hammer that point home, then I think repetition can be used as a way of doing it. If there is a struggle involved, it might not seem so epic if it's described in a single paragraph.
Just my two cents.

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Beth
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yeah, sometimes you need to say things more than once. It's a fine line, and one of the places where crits really come in handy.

I know a lot of times I've mentioned in crits that I've sort of lost track of where the scene was, or of some important detail, and said that a reminder would be nice. That's different than just saying the same thing several times over the course of a few paragraphs.

Then there's repetition that's used deliberately to create a pattern - nice when it works, but just tedious when it doesn't.


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goatboy
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Repetition can also be used as an artistic measure to enhance the rhythmic nature of the prose.
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Jeraliey
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It can be effective as long as it's not overdone.
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Shendülféa
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I've definitely read some pieces where the author wasn't redundant enough. What I mean is, he or she mentioned an important detail once and I completely missed it. Later on in the story, when one of the characters mentions something in connection with that detail such as that, "The treasure was underneath the temple, hidden within the secret passage. To open this passage, one must have the medallion that fits in the lock--this medallion," I will sit there for a moment and wonder how this character knows that this particular medallion is the right one. I then have to go back a few pages or more to find where this character figured that out and read over it again.

I don't know if that's the best example, but I think you can understand what I'm trying to say.

On the other hand, I've read some stories where there was so much redundancy it was painful. By the third time a certain detail was mentioned, I was thinking to myself, "Okay, I think we know that already. Let's move on now." For instance, I've read a couple of stories where the writer explains over and over the physical appearence of the main character or the way the main character felt towards something. The writer will say something like, "But there was one weakness to this man--he was deathly afraid of bees as he was highly allergic to them." Then a few paragraphs or pages later: "He froze. Right before him was his greatest fear: a bee." And then a chapter or so later, "How he hated those bees! He was quite allergic to them and thus feared them." At this point I just role my eyes and shake my head. Then I put the story down.

^That's not the best example either, but...meh.

So what I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that there's a happy medium between too little redundancy and too much.


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HSO
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I tend to read too quickly at times and skip over stuff. Sometimes whole paragraphs. But I read everything in a crit and I still miss things. Maybe this is because I stop and jot down a comment or two and my mind goes away from the story briefly.

I don't think a writer needs to be redundant or repetitive, but I do feel there should be clues that the reader won't miss -- even if you turn those clues upside down with a story twist. How an author gives us the clues is up to her.

But if it's setting related, I might gloss right over it, because most of the time it's the dialogue I pay the most attention to. Long sections of narrative are often skimmed for keywords, then I move on. Probably a bad habit I've got -- goes back to my school days and writing book reports and papers the night before they were due and I hadn't read the book yet.


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Rocklover
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I'm writing a novel and there are several times when the reader has been away from a character or event long enough that when I reintroduce it again, I feel I need a little reminder of something I said before. I guess you would call that redundancy. But I try to say it in a slightly different way so it doesn't sound like a broken record.

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Tanglier
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quote:
Repetition can also be used as an artistic measure to enhance the rhythmic nature of the prose.

Well said. Writing and music are not the same as sculpture or painting. I think that charmingly placed repetitions convey the clarity exhibited in scuplture and painting while retaining the power and glory of motion.


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Shendülféa
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quote:
Writing and music are not the same as sculpture or painting.

I'm not sure I know exactly what you're trying to say, but if it is what I think it is, then I must disagree. Sculptures and paintings are quite similar to writing and music. Repetitions in artwork, as in writing and music, can also convey a certain rhythym. For instance, the repetitions of wavy lines close together can create the sense of rhythmic waves undulating across the surface of water. There's actually a painting like this (I forget what it's called, though, and who it's by) and when you look at it, it seems very much like it's moving. All this because it has a pattern repeated again and again.

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Beth
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Personally I try to write all of my stories in interpretive dance, because stories, like dance, are all about the movement of shapes through space and creating a dynamic visual metaphor for the repetitous rhythms of life.

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Tanglier
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Shendülféa, we may have to just disagree. It's true that with a worthy sculpture or painting, you get a sense of the history of the moment in one striking image, but I think that music and writing's ability to unfold is different. The crescendo to a climax, or even return to an old theme, is different than the one striking clarity that a painting or sculpture inspires.

I'm not saying that a genre is better than another, though there is a reason why I'm a musician and a writer and not a painter or a sculpture, but I do think that the different genres emphasize different qualities of the human condition.

Beth, I think you are right.

[This message has been edited by Tanglier (edited April 02, 2005).]


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Shendülféa
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Well, I'm a writer, musician, and an artist, so I tend to see many similarities between them all, including the whole repetition thing.

I can find stories in art unfolding the longer I look at it. I see the figures in a painting acting out their respective parts, the action building into a climax until it all comes to a resolution once I look at the entire work as a whole.

And often I find more than one story in a painting or other work of art. I can see for example, the artist painting the picture or making the sculpture.

When he painted this part, he was deliberate and focused. The colors complement one another and please the viewer. This is where he started his piece. But then the strokes become agitated, the colors slightly more jarring, indicating the start of the climb towards the defining moment of his piece. Right here where the strokes are furious he was caught up in a sudden frenzy of some artistic vision and in a dramatic climax, he added his most intense colors, causing them to clash and vie for the viewer's attention. Then here, where the strokes are more relaxed and the colors more harmonious, he resolved the story of his painting, returning to his first theme, and ended it.


To me, artwork reads exactly the same way a story does. There is no difference between them. To each his own, though, I suppose. We all see the same things differently.

Sorry, that was off topic. That was bad of me. Bad me! *slaps self*

[This message has been edited by Shendülféa (edited April 02, 2005).]


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Pyre Dynasty
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Redundancy bugs me more than anything else. I figure that if I didn't catch it the first time that's my fault. Right now I'm reading a book that repeates everything exactally three times. The first line says that the boys lives alone with his mother, then in the next paragraph it says that his father left as if you didn't know he was gone and then in the next paragraph it tells the story of the father leaving, presenting it as a surprise. THe only reason I'm still reading is because I promised my sister I would.
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Shendülféa
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What story is this? It sounds vaguely familiar...
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autumnmuse
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I find that my natural voice is relatively rhythmic, and I use parallelism and small repetitions to achieve that, but I don't (hopefully) drive information into the ground. There is a pretty big difference IMO between repetitive information throughout a piece, and use of casually metered phrases to convey a single instance. I'll have a tendency to say something like:

"The refrigerator door was marked and scored by the passage of years, the rubbing of magnets, the scratches of a child's fingernails."

That sentence uses both 'marked' and 'scored' which could be construed as redundant, as well as three parallel phrases which some people don't like. In this particular instance, though, I feel that the effect is deliberate and evocative versus being grating and annoying. (See, I did it again Obviously I like that style in my own writing. But I try not to do it constantly or it would get old.

What I don't do is repeat information over and over on different pages. This thread has almost lumped the two types into one definition, and I don't feel that is an accurate way to view them.


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HSO
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This is a good example, autumnmuse. I hope you don't mind me elaborating using it and rewriting it. First the original.

quote:
The refrigerator door was marked and scored by the passage of years, the rubbing of magnets, the scratches of a child's fingernails.

The "redundancy" could be handled any number of ways. I would probably avoid the above by:

The refrigerator door was marked--scored by the passage of years, the rubbing of magnets, the scratches of a child's fingernails.

or by:

The refrigerator door was marked: the rubbing of magnets and the scratches of a child had scored it considerably throughout the passage of years.

Or whatever variation. It can even be two sentences if the author chooses. But, and this is my opinion, careful reconstruction makes the redundancy less redundant, and possibly drives the point home in the reader's mind. There's a reason the author is telling us this -- it's important here, pay attention.

Nevertheless, I think I know what Kolona is getting at, and I don't think it's redundancy within a passage. I think it's to do with how often to reinforce the theme of a story; how often to have a character consider something... like, for carefully chosen instance, one's impending retirement.

If a character is near retirement, how often would they think about it as they progress through a story? A little? A lot? When does it become too little or too much? And by doing it, do you risk tipping off the reader as to an eventual or possible outcome?

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited April 03, 2005).]


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wbriggs
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I try to be terse AND redundant. I don't know if it works. I remember one rejection I got that said "very wordy" although I'd gone through and reduced the word count as much as I could by cutting deadwood . . . what the editor meant was, you give a lot of concrete detail.

But I do try to be redundant. There's a principle in teaching (which I do): you have to repeat. Readers skip over things. I'll have cases where a critiquer asks questions right after the sentence that answers them. I do, too. I couldn't read Michael Crichton's state of fear because he kept giving us new characters and no reminders as to who they were or where we'd seen them before. (That, plus it was god-awful boring.)


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Elan
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I use repetition in various ways. I think it can be good to keep floating a line of thought from time to remind the reader of an ongoing plot line. However, I try to approach the repetition of the plot concept in different ways so the verbage itself isn't repeated.

One of my pet peeves is when a writer takes an uncommon phrase and hammers it into the dirt.

I remember one author wrote the character "stood with her arms akimbo" until I was ready to scream. Another writer talked of how the main character raked his hair back with his fingers... every other paragraph. And Robert Jordan has a character in his Wheel of Time series that "tugged her braid" so often I wanted to take the scissors and cut her bald.

I've seen clever phrases rendered impotent because the author overdid the repetition.

Which, by the way, seems to happen more and more with SUCCESSFUL authors.

***WARNING - RANT APPROACHING ***

You can tell when an author has gotten so succesful they feel they no longer need an editor. I have felt let down by the likes of Jean Auel (who brought new meaning to the expression "Mammoth Novel"), James Michner (did ANYone slog through the entire 100 pages of the geological formation of Montana in "Centennial"? When I was a young girl I read a lot of Rosemary Rodgers, and you could TELL when she got a word PROCESSOR because her TEXT was FULL of ITALICS!!! To let you KNOW the character was EXCITED!!! A good editor would have nixed that.

My. I am glad I got that off my chest.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited April 03, 2005).]


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Pyre Dynasty
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Mormonville is it's name
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Kolona
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I refuse to be redundant and repetitive!

Actually, HSO, I’m concerned about redundancy both within a passage, though not as a style issue but as one way to reinforce a theme or simply to highlight an important detail, and redundancy scattered throughout a story for the same purposes.

A theme, by its very nature, should be hinted at more than once or expressed by selected details, plural. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a theme. Yet those expressions must be handled delicately to avoid giving away the store, especially if there’s a twist at the end of the story. But even for plot details not directly related to a theme, reiteration for the benefit of the reader can become redundant.

Whether you repeat something within a passage to drive a point home or scatter the references throughout a story, the repeated detail is more likely to register with the reader because of the repetition. But, as Pyre Dynasty noted, you run the risk of annoying the reader or insulting his intelligence. Maybe Pyre is right. Two repetitions may comfortably set the detail in the reader’s mind, but a third time raises a flag flapping in the wind over it. Yet story length and complexity surely must enter in, as well as, as others have noted, the particular phraseology of the redundancies.

Plus, readers do read differently -- that’s just a fact -- and the same reader can read differently at different times. Reading on a bus on the way to work and reading while swaying in a hammock won’t necessarily produce the same detail retention in the same reader’s mind. Then add in reader preferences for more detail or less, as is being discussed in another thread, as well as the reality that someone like you will focus on dialogue, while someone else will gravitate toward description. And different writers write differently, which gives the pot a final stir.

It's both frustrating and amusing to receive comments that suggest cutting things because they’ve already been said or intimated, and other comments that suggest adding things to better say or intimate something, even the same something. It’s like trying to please everyone at the same time, which of course is impossible. It happened in places with my latest crits, but it’s happened before as well. I think it’s the nature of the whole process, especially in view of the preceding paragraph.

I know I write sparsely, which is probably why I don’t do outlines. My first drafts are my outlines. But I know I have to be careful how I fill them out.

I wouldn't want to repeat myself.



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