Friday, 24 July 2015

Don't Say it Again, Sam

Being asked by people to look over their writing is an interesting reciprocity; not only does the inquirer receive heaps of well-intentioned advice of questionable worth, but it brings issues to my attention that I can find in my own writing and never quite realised the ubiquitousness - and potential urgency of being addressed - of. While looking over a couple paragraphs that my significant other wrote, there was one thing I was sadly quite familiar with that stuck out as particularly fix-worthy and which I think may need my own personal attention a lot more in my own writing: reminders for the reader.

And I don't mean reminders of important information when they're likely to have forgotten about it, but reminding them about the current state of affairs when it's already been stated, probably in the same paragraph, and there is no reason to assume it has changed. This is an issue and it's one I've found myself having in the past, which becomes more apparent the more I'm forced to think about it. I could call this a "walking problem" because walking is what it most commonly entails for me. For some reason, in absence of anything better on my mind and a need to fill that page with a couple more word, my mind seems to decide that the process of putting one foot in front the other is exceeded in excitement only by its importance and needs constant reiterating. In effect, the outcome would be something like this (exaggerated for dubious degrees of entertainment):

She started walking towards the bridge. She walked and walked. Then she walked a bit further. "I'm walking", she thought as she continued to walk. She was still walking, walking as she walked.

The problem here lies not just with repetition of words, but unnecessary repetition of what has already been said. The reader does not have to be reminded all the time of what the character is doing; the general assumption is that unless there's a good reason why the character would have stopped, they're still performing the same action. If she set out for the bridge and hasn't reached it yet, she's probably still walking there. Emphasising it repeatedly like this causes clutter and makes the story take longer than it should without actually adding anything. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to slip into the habit of restating facts in absence of anything meaningful to say, as some of my own writing can sadly attest for. So what to do instead?

You'll most likely have a certain pace in mind at which the story ought to be moving. Unless that is to change drastically, something will have to replace the repetitions. And there are sooo many things that could when you just allow yourself the time to consider them. Even if the character really is (from a rougher viewpoint) doing nothing but walk, there are tons of details to set the pace with instead of emphasising that one action. What's going on around them? What do they hear, see, feel? What are they thinking about? Maybe there's something minor on the character's way from A to B that they react to. All of these things are not particularly important, but they are new information. If the scene's going to be moving slowly, you may as well use the time to provide these kinds of details rather than dwelling on the same single thing.

Keep in mind that these things should replace the needless repetitions, not add on to them. Don't start the sentence with "as she continued to walk" (that especially goes for you, myself!). Double-check yourself; once you get into a habit like this, it can easily slip past you if you're not consciously avoiding it.

As Tammy continued to write her blog post, she thought about a fitting manner to end the blog post she was writing. She was still writing it when it occurred to her that such an ending may not be feasible, so, as she wrote more of it, she decided it would simply have to be a written blog post she had written. Thus, she wrote the ending and concluded her writing of the blog post she had been writing.

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