One of the on-line writing groups I belong to has devoted several chat sessions to the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie. Unfortunately, my schedule has not allowed me to participate in any of the discussion thus far, but I did take the opportunity to read the article—and I’m so glad I did.
For the next several weeks, I’m going to dissect this article/essay and really think over each section. Since I remember things better when I write them down, I figured I might as well post them up here as a series and discussion topic. This way we can all chat, and maybe learn from each other as well.
I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them. [Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie]
So let’s chat about number one, which defines that wacky word I’ve never heard of before…
1: Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase that can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant [Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie]
Now, I KNOW I don’t use “more or less” or “in any shape or form” because they would both set off my cliché alarm. I have caught myself using “just” once in a while… but I’m not sure about the other two. I’m going to go run a search on my nearly completed manuscript FIRE IN THE WOODS for these words. You go take a look at yours, and let’s meet back here.
Okay… Here’s the scoop.
There are 203 cases of “just” in my novel. Probably too many for 270 pages, don’t you think? It seems that most of them are in dialog, but let’s take a look at a few that aren’t:
Staying in the house was just too much to ask. This was the story of a lifetime. I just couldn’t let it slip by without getting something on film.
Okay, taken out of context the two “justs” next to each other scream at me. The second one will definitely go. Now the first one… does the sentence sound fine without it? Yes, of course it does, but I think the “just” in this case, is part of the teenage voice in the novel. For now, I think the first one will stay—but knowing me it will start annoying me now, and get deleted eventually.
Here’s a “that” instance…
You promised that you wouldn’t let anything happen to me
Each switch up to “You promised you wouldn’t let anything happen to me”
Here are my total counts:
Original appearances of “Just” = 203 (85% in dialog)
# After search/edit = 114 (mostly dialog)
Original appearances of “Actually” = 22 (only 5 outside dialog)
# After search/edit = 21 (only 4 outside dialog)
Original appearances of “That” = 448 (Yikes!)
# after search/edit = 395 – most in dialog, but only 63 could be removed without messing up the sentence. I will look at this again in the final read-through.