Monday, April 16, 2007

Redundant Fundament

A Music Party,
Gerard ter Borch,
oil on wood panel, c. 1675.
Cincinnati Art Museum.

Woman with Musical Intrument ( like Girl Reading) is a familiar theme rendered in art over the centuries. You may notice, however, that the gallant on the left has his gaze fixed firmly on the female's front.

As you will have observed in my blog posts, sometimes I will grab a handful of synonyms and heave them at a subject.

This is a form of deliberate fun, kaleidoscope style, and also one based partly on the belief that synonyms are seldom literally exact.

I do try to avoid that lamentable habit in a WIP.

However, after I put up an excerpt from Malignity last Thursday, I received an email in which my correspondent politely suggested that I had committed redundancy on four separate instances in one short snippit.

My first reaction was a WTF.

Moi, profuse? Prolix? Guilty of excessive verbiage, needless repetition, superfluous information? Loosey goosey? Mon cher ami...

Like most writers, I value comments and probably pay more attention to criticism than to praise. Based on another belief I hold - that a critic may be right - even for the wrong reasons - and it behooves a sincere writer to examine the criticism carefully.

Thought I would analyze the complaints in a form some educators used to call a teaching-learning situation.

My critic's first example was based on these lines:

I didn't make the mistake of thinking his leather jacket, turtleneck and jeans meant this was a social call. He looked very good in casual, I noticed.

His objection was based on the inclusion of the clause I noticed. Since we already know she is looking at him, he felt I noticed was redundant.

Technically, he is probably correct.

I composed the sentences as cause and effect, and her noticing a separate fact from mere observation and catelogue of clothing, and therefore worthy of note, even of mild emphasis, as a hint and gentle reminder to the reader he is the hunka-hunka heero.

Your take?


Ric said...

Not redundent - your thinking is correct. Even if he is dressed casually, the fact he looks good is a separate sentence and that you noticed is worthy of the clause.

Don't overthink.

Bernita said...

Ah, thank you, Ric.
It may be an external vs. internal question. I'm not inclined to think "see" is the same as "notice," - though I believe his point was the the statement "He looked good" covered "notice."

You be careful driving to Florida.

Ric said...

Flying down, driving back. Mom is 83 and, though she's fine driving around town, the road trip would be a bit much. and Thank You.

Anonymous said...

For me, leaving the I noticed off, would work very well. Perhaps I just like it simple. One layman's opinion.

Robyn said...

To me, there is a difference in noting he is in casual, and noticing that he looks good. It tells me she has a moment of appreciation for the hunka-hunka. A second mm-hmmm glance, if you will.

Bernita said...

Just please be careful, Ric. Do hope this freaking snow is gone by the time you return.

Thank you, Steve. I can argue the case both ways, actually.
Superficially, it seems repetitive, and perhaps should be deleted for that reason alone.
It was inserted originally as an inferential, because, under the circumstances, she is annoyed with herself for "noticing."

Excessively modest to call yourself a "layman," btw.

Bernita said...

Maybe it's a female subtlity, Robyn.
One can observe someone looks very nice, without feeling attracted.Perhaps the problem is I underplayed it.

Jaye Wells said...

To me it is not matter of correct or incorrect. It is a matter of voice. Some may prefer a more spare style, where leaving the "I noticed" off keeps it tight and brusque. However, keeping that portion does not weaken the line. I think it adds to it, actually. And I agree that noticing is difference from just looking.

My word verification is "iokpie." I ok pie! Love it.

Bailey Stewart said...

I don't see anything wrong with it, but then again, I failed grammar ...

Bernita said...

I tend to view redundancy as a distinct compositional error, Jaye, and not simply a question of voice or style - which is why I thought it might be useful to do entrails here.

Thank you, Bailey. I don't believe that though.

EAMonroe said...

"Constructive criticism" -- make a note somewhere of the advice offered, and then forget it until after you have finished writing your wip, Bernita. That's the most important part -- finishing the book and writing The End.

~grinning~ And, then if your word count exceeds the limits of the genre you are writing for, those type of things might need a second look. Maybe.

Ric's "don't overthink" sounds like good advice -- just write.

Bernita said...

Not much danger of my exceeding a genre's word limit, Elizabeth.
My tendency usually lies in the opposite direction I discovered - after completing about five MSS.
The "just write" shotgun advice is excellent as a general rule.But.
I do have the idea though that a little attention to a possible bad habit might save considerable trouble in later stages, and that one should not always leave the honing and learning to the "I'll fix that later" revision stage.

Sam said...

It didn't jump out at me and clunk me on the head. That said, I'm a lousy editor, lol.
My favorite editor says this:
'When in doubt, leave it out.'
However, if you're not in doubt, then screw the critics!

Jaye Wells said...

"I tend to view redundancy as a distinct compositional error, Jaye, and not simply a question of voice or style - "

I did not find it redundant. I apologize it that was unclear.

Bernita said...

The 'doubt/leave it out' mantra occurred to me, Sam!
I just don't know if the eye offends me or not!

Nonono, Jaye. You weren't unclear - I was.
Just explaining why I chose to blog about this.

December Quinn said...

I didn't notice the repetition when I forst read it, but pointed out to me I see it and feel it, if you know what I ean. So I say leave it off. Better to cut it if there's any doubt.

M.E Ellis said...

'I noticed'. It did stick out, but:

There is something called 'voice'.

Sometimes, though words are redundant, if they make the voice of the piece, then it's good that they stay.

Just my poopy opinion.


WWofP said...

It seems okay to me, though I think it is understood that she noticed.

Did you ever read Stephen King's "On Writing?" He goes for the spare sentence and no words ending in "ly," as I recall.


Bernita said...

You're probably right, December, because....

An editor says, "It did stick out."
Thank you, Michelle. In this case the "voice" can likely do without it.

Bernita said...

Yup, Lynn, have a copy of King.
A useful guide.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Only because you asked...

On the first read I didn't notice it either, but now that it's been pointed out, it seemed to stop the "beat" of the sentence.

But it's your work, so whether you leave it in or take it out, is ultimately up to you.

We're in the middle of the Nor'easter of the century! Eleven inches of snow and counting...trees, power lines down :-( what a mess!

Bernita said...

Broken rhythm is a different reson for elimination, Bonnie - though a perfectly valid one.

Fortunately, so far here we have only 3-4 inches, and melting.

raine said...

Think it may be a matter of preference in style. Strictly speaking, it might be stricken if the author is striving for tight, no-excessive verbiage in the manuscript.

It didn't bother me on first reading or second.
I assumed some distinction between observing the clothes he was wearing and noticing that he, the man, looked very good in it.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Raine.
But does not the statement "He looked good" declare that notice sufficiently?

raine said...

But does not the statement "He looked good" declare that notice sufficiently?

Assuming you mean "He looked good", as opposed to the statement, "He looked very good in casual, I noticed"...again, it may depend on what you intended. If your meaning was to draw attention to how good he looked in the casual clothing, the original is fine.
If you say, "he looked good", that, plus the previous sentence, would imply that he looked good in that clothing, or that he simply looked handsome, or that he looked healthy, etc...

My goodness, are readers really so discriminating?

Bernita said...

Hee, Raine. I meant the statement "He looked good in casual" make the addition of "I noticed" unnecessary.
Discriminating? I don't know. I certainly turned this person's crank with that excerpt.
More to come.

Dave said...

I have a visit with my phrenologist later today. I'll chance a comment.

Here's the complete passage:

Another problem stood there. Almost ogre size. Two hundred or so pounds of problem. Sergeant Johnnie Thresher, waiting, with hands easy on his hips and Dumbarton sniffing his pant legs.
I didn't make the mistake of thinking his leather jacket, turtleneck and jeans made this a social call. He looked very good in casual, I noticed. Even nicer than the suit this morning. That didn't change the fact he was a cop with a grindstone mind and this was business. And I didn't have to read his aura to know it.

Well, several sentences indicate almost the same thoughts and feelings. This might lead me to believe that Johnnie Thresher going to be a big character in her life.

She sees him outside the door, all 200 pounds, hands on hips. She gives him a good look, good enough to describe his clothes, good enough to make a judgment about his appearance, and good enough to compare it to another time. And in all of this, she doesn't check his aura because his physical demeanor shows her it's all business. That's four ways she describes Thresher.

The "I noticed" creates a beat that either attracts the reader, or alternatively, breaks the reader's flow. It calls attention to the fact that she notices. We know that she notices Thresher. This guarantees that we know.

If you intend to call attention to their relationship, or possibly Thresher's actions later on, or possibly their imminent love affair, this is a way to foreshadow it.
If nothing other than routine business is going to happen between them, why is she so attentive to his appearance?

Bernita said...

"several sentences indicate almost the same thoughts and feelings"
Dear me.
Dave, are you suggesting the entire passage is redundant?

JLB said...

I'm afraid that I cannot offer input from an objective perspective, as I myself commit unwarranted acts of redundancy in my own writing.

I often sacrifice technical precision for artistic cadence, which leave ample room for repetition (intended and otherwise).

Yes, good luck with that. ;)

Dave said...

No, absolutely not. The entire passage is not "redundant."

Bernita said...

That was an admirable evcasion,JLB.
However, "artistic cadence" is not necessarily redundancy, nor is lack of precision.
Redundancy is not simply a matter of taste, as I said before.

Dave, I am relieved...else your phrenologist might make some interesting discoveries.

ORION said...

Oh heck.
I'll jump right in this discussion of metacognition!
I like "I noticed" for the simple fact that the character is thinking about what she is thinking or seeing and that tells me more about how she sees this guy.
(I would remove the "almost" and "very" though, I think they are unnecessary).
I surely do like your writing Bernita.


Bernita, how is canada?

Bernita said...

Thank you, Pat!
I think it is a female thing...

Canada is cool.

Donnetta Lee said...

I think Ric and Robyn are right. Two thoughts going on. Two thoughts needing definition. You did it.

spyscribbler said...

Perfectly fine rhythm and voice, imho! I think others are right: it's not a matter of redundancy, but purpose.

Personally, without the "I noticed," I'm more likely to slip into the protagonist's skin and 'become' her. With the "I notice," I more likely to watch her tell the story from a greater distance.

Each choice has its pros!

kmfrontain said...

I'm late commenting on this, but...

there are such things as words used to smooth the read. Without the "I noticed", I would have been looking for the reason the first sentence lived in the same paragraph with the second, because paras have rules too. They're supposed to have a theme running in some sort of logical sequence, beginning, middle, end. Without your "I noticed", I'd have been looking for a conjunction sort of modifier, like "but", between those two sentences, because it would have given them a reason to be together. Without it, it's just a pair of sentences in a choppy sort of para.

So if some writers out there want "I noticed" gone, then they like choppy and curt. They like the reader to figure the "but" out by themselves without having the "but" in there. They want the reader to draw the conclusions as to why two statements were put together.

I for one don't think this is very workable. Sometimes a reader wants to relax and just enjoy, not figure the author's reasons out, and that's the difference between a smooth read and one that isn't. Call it style if you want, but I think your first instincts on this were fine, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Donnetta. Another one for emphasis.

"without the "I noticed," I'm more likely to slip into the protagonist's skin"
Thank you, Natasha. That's an interesting angle/point made.

Another qualified editor's take!
Karen, you are never "late." You input is always reasoned and immensely valuable.
Another point to consider -logical connection and flow may well trump minor redundancies - or those that may appear to be redundancies if taken in isolation.

writtenwyrdd said...

I get so tired of getting gigged for having the first person character "address the audience," which is a commonplace in the style in current literature. I didn't have a problem with any of the things your correspondent disliked as reduntant, excepe, perhaps, the "if he had not already" regarding whizzing on the car. And only that because I thought it might be trimmed as a bit of possible excess.

YOu write well. Someone thought they were helping. And so it goes!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Written.
Re: the wizzing on the car: earlier, she requested Dumbarton do that - the next time Big John showed up.