Repeat Again!

In my personal opinion, it was an unexpected surprise to each individual person to see an armed gunman circling around the fenced-in enclosure where the invited guests had gathered together.  The uninvited intruder, although separated off from them, was in their close proximity, which presented a difficult dilemma as to how they possibly might escape to freedom.

Did the two sentences above capture your interest, alarm you, perhaps?  Or did they bog you down with verbosity?

If the latter, how would you rewrite it?

One of the outcomes desired by most writers is clarity through brevity.  Do not use ten words to say what might be said more effectively with fewer.  As an example, read the same two sentences, revised to eliminate redundancy.

In my opinion, it was a surprise to each person to see a gunman circling the enclosure where the guests had gathered.  The intruder, although separated from them, was in their proximity, which presented a dilemma as to how they might escape.

In conversation, it’s easy (and forgivable) to utter redundancies because talking is generally spontaneous.  Writing, however—particularly if it is to be published—is subject to editing.  Whereas speech is heard at the moment it is uttered, affording no chance to amend it, published writing is seen only after it has been scrutinized for errors.

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How often have you heard people say things like: I’m absolutely certain…or here’s an added bonus…or the consensus of opinion…?

How many times have you caught yourself saying: past history…or they were few in number…or those are basic fundamentals…?

I say things like that all the time.

Occasionally, I allow them in my writing, as well, but only for style purposes—that’s my official explanation, anyway.  Truth be told, there are times when unplanned redundancies find their way into a finished essay, even after the application of a rigorous editing.

Here is an example of both, taken from a recent post on this blog—

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Hot air, flights of fancy, and roads not taken…

Over the past twenty years, the political landscape in many of the so-called free, democratic countries of the world has become more contentious, more rancorous, more partisan than I can ever remember it.

The word free is unnecessary as a modifier for democratic; of the world is unnecessary after countries; ever is not needed ahead of remember; all were unintended.  However, my use of contentious, rancorous, and partisan in the same sentence was deliberate for emphasis.

Here’s another example from a different post—

When music is added to words, the result can provide a tremendous, emotional impact for an audience fortunate enough to be part of it. 

The word tremendous is not needed to modify impact; the phrase fortunate enough to be part of it is unnecessary to clarify audience.

And here is one more example from my blog—

I’d be well offshore when the sun brought the forest alight in greens, bouncing and careening its way through the translucent leaves.  Dark shade-spots would climb the stretching tree-trunks, dance across leaves turned to face the morning light, and then suddenly vanish.

The words bouncing and careening were deliberately used to convey the sense of helter-skelter as the sunrise broke through the forest; the word suddenly, although not needed to modify vanish, was likewise used purposely to emphasize the quickness of the change.  The word dark, redundant in describing shade-spots, snuck in unintended, although I confess to liking it descriptively.

There are times when I write clinically, as a reporter might, describing only the bones of the subject.  On other occasions, I write descriptively, as a water-colourist might paint, portraying imagery above facts.  Both have their place.  It is in the second mode, however, that redundancies are more likely to intrude.

Still, the best writers are able to craft beautiful descriptions without a plethora of words, and that remains a worthwhile objective for lesser ones such as I.

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Compare these two examples, one from a writing workshop, the other from the Bible, describing a man’s grief.  The first reads—

The middle-aged, forty-five-year-old man was sobbing and crying. Wet tears streamed down his cheeks, his whole face was red, and he screamed loudly at the very top of his lungs. His upper body and shoulders wracked and contorted with every sob that forced its way out, chest rising and falling as he gasped for breath.  He closed his eyes shut, balling his hands into clenched fists each time he threw his head back to let out a blood-curdling scream.

The second reads—

Jesus wept.

Each reader may decide which of the two is more powerful.  But the first could be rendered less verbose by eliminating a few redundant words and phrases; read the passage without the parts underlined in bold—

The middle-aged, forty-five-year-old man was sobbing and crying. Wet tears streamed down his cheeks, his whole face was red, and he screamed loudly at the very top of his lungs. His upper body and shoulders wracked and contorted with every sob that forced its way out, chest rising and falling as he gasped for breath.  He closed his eyes shut, balling his hands into clenched fists each time he threw his head back to let out a blood-curdling scream.

Of course, none of this is of import to people uninterested in writing.  But even if you are one of those, you might enjoy listening for redundant phrases in the conversations going on around you—

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actual experience; advance notice; ask a question; completely filled; end result; enter in; false pretense; first began; free gift; plan ahead; postpone until later; revert back; still remains; usual custom.

And don’t forget the title of this post—

Repeat Again!

Obsessive?

A friend of mine has long been a far-reaching, outside-the-box thinker, seemingly knowledgeable on any subject, no matter how esoteric or mundane.  If plotted on a graph, conversations with him would not reflect a normal back-and-forth pattern between us, regular and predictable along the spoken axis; rather, his portion would appear as jagged deviations from the anticipated flow of talk, spiking off in all directions from what might be expected.

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He never tells a lie, so far as I know.  But his conversational pattern reminds me of what one might see on a lie-detector print-out—the lines ordered and sure while I’m speaking, careering wildly up and down on the page when it’s his turn to talk.  His free-thinking tendencies result in tangential observations I sometimes have difficulty understanding in relation to what we’re supposedly talking about.

My pseudo-psychological label for his thinking process is random-hysteric.

By contrast, I am as predictable as the sun at dawn, and as ponderous in my thinking as he is not—my label, perhaps, fixed-stable.  Although I love my friend dearly, it can irritate me when he strays from our conversational path, rather than continuing along what I perceive as the direct route from A to B.

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“What’s that got to do with what we’re talking about?” I often cry after one of his rambling excursions.  “Stick to the point!”

More often than not, he’ll simply shake his head at my apparent obtuseness.  But he doesn’t change his approach.  In his wide-ranging mind, everything he says is related to the topic at hand.

Deep down inside, though, I suspect the problem is mine, not his.  I am a plodder in most things.  It’s amazing how many times, as I journey from here to wherever, I am unaware afterwards of almost everything lying between point of origin and destination.  Stop to smell the flowers is not an adage I have ever rigorously adhered to.

When flying, if I know the expected time it should take to get there, I become impatient with deviations to the flight-path that might delay arrival.  When driving, I hate if we pull in at roadside attractions or scenic lookouts because stopping means we’re not actually getting to where we’re going.  When reading, I constantly check how many pages I’ve read and how many are left yet to read—even when I love the story.

When swimming in our pool, I count each lap faithfully, and get annoyed if I feel I’ve lost count.  It was actually a depressing moment when I first learned that a lap is properly measured as two lengths of the pool, not one; I felt cheated, as if I had lost half the number I had accumulated.  And worse, it got harder to keep accurate count!

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Because I alternate strokes after each lap—freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke—I have my own counting pattern: 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2, 3-1, 3-2, 4-1, 4-2, 5-1, 5-2…until I hit my goal, 20-2.  And then, while showering, I go over it in my head, trying to ensure I didn’t miscount.  Obsessive?

If you look up the word methodical in the dictionary, my picture will be there.

And so it is in conversations with other people.  I absolutely love when they stick to the topic, acknowledge what I’ve said before beginning their reply, listen politely when it’s my turn again, offer their further thoughts when I finish, and (I really must say it again) stick to the topic.

Because I’ve long been aware of this eccentricity of mine, it has occurred to me that it might be one of the reasons why, when I find myself in a social setting with several other people enjoying conversations with each other, I’m often the only one not directly engaged—a gadfly, as it were, flitting from eavesdropping here to overhearing there, nodding and smiling as if I were part of each exchange.

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But never mind.  A plodder I may be in just about everything, but in writing I find my escape.  For some reason, it seems not to disturb me that I can ramble on, hither and yon, from the start of an essay to the end—likely confusing many readers as to my thesis, my conclusions, even my thinking (such as it is).

Granted, there is always a starting point for each piece; but I seldom know at the beginning where the end will be found, or on what grounds I will trespass as I look for it. Most of the time, I just stop writing when it seems best.

There is a lovely peace that steals over me, and a surcease of compulsive demands, when I hie myself off to write.  Perhaps my brain draws respite from its normally-plodding behaviours as I lay down on paper the thoughts jostling each other for escape.

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Once there, however, those thoughts are fixed.  As Omar Khayyam wrote (according to Edward Fitzgerald’s 1859 translation)—

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

And so, here I shall stop for now.