Cut The Fat; Make Your Writing Lean: #Tip 14.


Writers enjoy sharing ideas to improve their craft. Here, I’m looking at ways to trim our writing. Readers will thank us. I’ll examine common redundancies and a few flabby expressions.


Baldness is generally related to the head, so, in most cases, ‘headed’ would be redundant. However, there are times when it may be necessary or desirable to identify the bald area of a character. e.g. The man was bald-headed. Try: The man was bald. Better: He was bald. But: ‘The woman was bald.’ Is open to interpretation, since the modern habit of hair removal may mean we’re talking about something other than her head. In this case, it might be better to identify the physiological area. How you do that depends on your tastes, the nature of the story and any moral hang-ups you may suffer. But I’ll try one here: ‘Entirely bald, her female enigma was openly displayed.’ But I’m sure you can devise something more appropriate.

Time and time again:

As with so many of these example, this is fine if used in dialogue. However, in narrative, it’s flabby and should be replaced with something less wordy; repeatedly, perhaps? e.g. Time and time again he had let her down. Try: He had let her down repeatedly.

Sudden impulse

Is an impulse ever anything other than ‘sudden’, I wonder. Treat the word with respect and remove the qualifier. e.g. She had a sudden impulse to slap his face. Try: She had an impulse to slap his face. Better: Her impulse to slap his face was irresistible.

Reading this post and nodding wisely won’t improve your writing. Stay alert to extraneous words that sneak into text, or they’ll slide in when you’re not looking. Include this as part of your editing process to catch most offenders.

Fiction writers, however, should remember that real people often use redundancy and meaningless expressions when talking, so dialogue can be made more natural by occasionally including these.

These suggestions are intended to make us think about what we write, to examine the words and help us decide how we can improve our writing. Rules about writing form useful guides, but, in the words of George Orwell, ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’

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