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Stop Right There!

Here’s the scene: Shane and Gloria are speaking with each other. Gloria is our protagonist, and the two are alone. Now think of a stoplight for a minute:

“No one’s ever asked me that,” Shane murmured to himself, just loudly enough that Gloria could hear him.

Green means go. The first part of the sentence is fine. We have a piece of dialogue, and a dialogue tag. “Murmur” is a good verb, and as it turns out, the crucial part of the point to be made. From there, however, things get worse and worse.

I  put “to himself” in yellow because Shane wouldn’t murmur to Gloria in this context; that sounds awkward. If Shane and Gloria were in a situation where they were trying to hide their conversation it would work, but in this case the reader can guess he’s saying this mostly to himself. Though this one could be argued, in situations where the writer is trying to figure out how to make her or his prose more concise, kill excess wherever and whenever possible. Cutting unneeded words lets you put in better ones.

Finally, we get to the red light. We the readers are reading Shane’s dialogue because it was loud enough for Gloria to hear. Remember, Gloria is our protagonist. If we’re reading Shane’s dialogue, it must be because Gloria is hearing that dialogue. But there’s a second reason we know this. That wonderful verb “murmur” the writer used tells the reader that something is just loud enough to be heard. (This is an example of why a good verb like “murmur” is much better than an okay verb plus an adverb (e.g. “said just loudly enough to be heard”).

The text in purple (what, you never heard of a stoplight with four lights?) is the worst of the worst of the repetition. Shane is the only person around so the reader knows it’s him she’s hearing.

To emphasize the point, here’s a made up example of how bad it can get:

“Let’s go to the store together,” he said to her, asking her in so many words to go to the store with him, then turning to go to the store with the expectation that she would be coming with him to the store.

While this is beyond what I’ve seen in editing (and hopefully something I’ll never see), you can see how it’s possible to put together a sentence with a lot of words in it that say the same thing repeatedly. The scary thing is, that sample sentence isn’t grammatically incorrect. But it’s bloated and horrible, and should be put out of its misery. The first 8 words out of 43 are useful, the rest are just going around in circles. Let’s not go around in circles, let’s keep the story moving.

For further reading, check out “Enough with the Fluff!”

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