In my attempts to be sure the meaning of my words are not lost to the reader, my temptation is to add extra words, rather than subtract them. Examples such as: “the toast was burnt black,” “she raised her eyes up to meet his,” and “the forest trees were thick with greenery,” may not necessarily jump out as being problematic sentence structures, but they are riddled with redundancy.
Added words that replicate the meaning of a single word do not make the point clearer or stronger. This kind of redundancy is called Pleonasm, and it weakens the language~ the opposite effect I’m aiming for. The examples above are the kinds of sentences I look for (and often find), when I am revising my work and looking to cut needless words.
The first example, “the toast was burnt black,” is the kind of Pleonasm I most commonly fall victim to. My story will go on its merry way, burnt black toast and all, till someone with a sharper eye than my own says, “burnt black as opposed to what? Burnt orange?” And only then will I see my own blunder. Sometimes I will argue, “but this toast is really, really burnt! I need people to know how burnt this toast is. It’s imperative to the story! How can I demonstrate the true realism of a Cocker Spaniel dog owner in the old-time Elizabethan era who is an addicted alcoholic with a drinking problem without showing you how black he burns the toast?” (Did you catch all those redundancies?) But most times, I will see the error and agree. Especially when it’s pointed out to me that toasters were unlikely devices in this particular setting. If the toast is burnt, it goes without saying that it is black… or at least close to it.
The second example is even trickier. “She raised her eyes up to meet his,” sounds perfectly fine to me. However, if something is raised, does “up” need to be added? In this sentence, the word “up” becomes nothing more than white noise. After all, you can not really raise your eyes down, now can you? The sentence, “she raised her eyes to meet his,” may not sound significantly more powerful than the former version of itself, but it is, because after an entire novel of small redundancies, the expressiveness of the language tends to get watered down.
The third example is quite a whopper, yet sadly, I have read (and even written) similar sentences. “The forest trees were thick with greenery,” is problematic for several reasons. First, what else is a forest composed of if not trees? Second, the word “forest” implies many trees, which therefore implies the “thick” in this description. Thirdly, and most redundant of all, what color are most forests if not green? And isn’t greenery what one would expect to find in a forest?
There are a million ways in which we commonly weaken the language by being redundant, and it’s certainly not due to lack of options that we do so. With a language that is so flexible, and gives us such infinitely endless ways of returning back to one place and advancing forward to another, the thing to remember is that excessively repetitious reiteration and wordy verbosity is rarely, in my experience, the best path to take.