Reducing Redundancy When Writing Fiction

Yesterday on Randomness and Lunacy I shared a laundry list of stuff going on in my life. Some work related, other stuff on the personal side. For one thing, Ripple the Twine is now available at a library in Massachusetts (HOORAY!). I also talked about a term that I’ve dubbed the double reveal.

A writer friend of mine asked if I could explain more about what I mean by double reveal. So here's a page from my personal lexicon right now.

Double reveal, what does it mean?

I’m sure there’s an actual, technical name for this particular writing device but I have no clue what that term is. That’s why I made up my own.

Essentially, it means to tell the reader the same thing in dialogue and narrative in close proximity within the story. Narrative is the way we get inside the character’s world while dialogue is how we get to know their inner thoughts personified.

Here's an example**

I turned around and looked at the building. With reflective blue glass windows I couldn't see what was on the inside. That made me nervous to take one step past where I was standing, let alone go through the front door ill prepared. My partner seemed just as nervous since he was pacing around and biting his fingernails.
"That reflective glass makes me nervous. Can’t see what’s inside."
"Yeah, me too. I can't stop biting my nails."

Though it will expand word count, the reader doesn’t need to hear the same information come from the character’s mouths when they just read it in the scene description.

The dialogue should move the story forward and reveal character traits instead of repeating what we already know.

Here's a better way to approach that scene:

I turned around and looked at the building. With reflective blue glass windows I couldn't see what was on the inside. That made me nervous to take one step past where I was standing, let alone go through the front door ill prepared. My partner was pacing around and biting his fingernails.
"Only one way to find out what we’re up against in there. Let’s get back to the car, pack some heat then head inside." I said.
"Are you kidding? I say we call the cops right now and get out of here. Who knows who’s watching us!" My partner responded in a low voice as if people on the other side of the mirror could hear his every word.

By shifting the dialogue the reader still knows the two people are in a precarious situation that makes them nervous but we also know exactly who they are – character 1 is a badass full-steam-ahead type while character 2 is cowardly and paranoid.

This rewrite gets scene and character on the page while still increasing word count and not being redundant.

My friend wondered how to approach this issue when the reader knows information before another character finds out.

He asked:

Let's say a character has cancer, but his girlfriend doesn't know it. If halfway through the story he reveals to her what the reader already knows, is that going to insult the reader?

I’d say no. These are two different things but it needs to be executed properly.

First, review how the cancer is revealed to the reader. Next, determine what the desired emotional response is from the girlfriend in the scene where she finds out. Finally, bring a twist to the situation when the girlfriend learns the truth.

For example, if the situation is revealed to the reader with a hint of vulnerability, but the character internally struggles with revealing that same vulnerability to the other characters, the scene might read like this:

“We haven’t talked in days! What am I supposed to think, John? I know you’re cheating.”

“Whatever, Brittney. I have cancer.”

Brittney stopped talking immediately. Her jaw hung open until she slammed it shut and pulled her lips into something resembling a snarl. She darted her eyes back and forth across mine but didn’t open her mouth to speak for a full minute.

I was uncomfortable; I knew she was mad at me for the way I told her. Of course she was. I was such a jackass sometimes. Why was I so callus and mean to the people I loved most? The silence was too much. I cleared my throat but before I could say a word she slapped me hard across the left side of my face. It stung. I deserved it.

“Ooh, cancer. What, you want a medal or something? You and everyone else these days, so save it. That still doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been avoiding me all week at school.”

A novel that deals with cancer will have characters that react to the character with the disease. Every revelation and every response will be different.

Maybe he and his girlfriend are fighting and he just blurts it out like the example above. It’s selfishly motivated as he thinks this will end their fight. But the girlfriend reflects his selfishness back with her own cold response and keeps fighting.

We start to see depth in these characters.

Or maybe the characters are out on a date having a great time, comfortable, laughing, happy, and by chance it sneaks into the conversation for the first time. This would show the comfort level of the character’s relationship and in an everyday type setting.

The dialogue will reveal the reaction and that’s where the nature of the character comes to life. Will she react: mean, soft, sob uncontrollably, walk away, hug him, something else? Depends on the characters.

And as the writer it is our job to decide where to place tension and when to bring it down.

The character’s cancer in this situation is a big deal, a huge plot point. It's also the writer’s job to set the tone, the mood. We steer readers through exactly how to feel about the character's struggle.

How would you write it?

What if the reader also knew that the teen in the example above was a murderer? Does it make you feel more or less understanding for how cruel he is? Would that bring sympathy for her even if she had the exact same reaction?

Paying attention to the intricacies of the character and how they react will allow the writer to push the story forward through the narrative and dialogue without needing to rely on a double reveal to increase word count.

**All fiction blurbs in this post were written by me specifically for this post

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Though I’m Not Much of a Fan of Bugs…

I’m headed off to Camp for the entire month of August. CampNaNoWriMo that is!

National Novel Writers Month, NaNoWriMo,or NaNo for short, is an annual event that takes place during the thirty days of November every year. The challenge is to complete writing a 50,000 word novel in no more than those thirty days.

Tall order? Yes, but the challenge is so worth it!

I did NaNo in 2009 and 2010 and I “won” both times. I even got snazzy badges for my efforts.

Sure the awards look great on a blog but all I really wanted out of the deal was some valuable words, character development, and a general storyline.

But I knew the purge of words wouldn’t be all I did with the manuscripts. The challenge worked great and I released one of my NaNo books, Ripple the Twine, in April 2012.

I wanted to do Nano again this year but planned to work on MS2 until November. Of course, plans change.

So now I’m sure you’re asking: have I lost my mind? Did I need an added challenge? Was I missing “Kumbayah” around the fire and S’mores so much that I felt the need to return to camp after all these years of being able to avoid it?

Because I really hate bugs.

So to understand why I’d voluntarily go to Camp at age thirty-nine I’ll tell you the story about the first time I went away to overnight camp.

Let’s take a trip back. Back to 1982-83 when I was about ten years old. I don’t know if other states do this but fifth grade camp was a rite of passage for kids in my area.

You took a bus for about 100 hours and ended up somewhere in the depths of Stephen King, Maine.

With no cell phones, no link to the outside world, a lake, some rickety and drafty cabins and a big mess hall, our Counselors were raring to go the moment we arrived. But I was no cheerleader, I just wanted to lie in my bed and read.

Within a millisecond of our arrival it started raining. And I’m not talking the New England rain where you get three days of clouds, some light sprinkles off and on and an hour of a downpour. No, I mean sustained and steady rain.

It rained like that all day, every day, for the entire week we were there.

Canoeing? Out. Swimming? Out. Baseball games? Out. Pretty much all the outdoor activities the Counselors had planned were not going to happen because everything started to flood on day one.

Plus I don’t think they would have been able to deal if all 100+ of us happened to succumb to the “you’ll catch your death” old wives tale from playing all day in the cold and wet nastiness.

I got my wish of reading in my bunk bed. But even I started getting antsy, and doing nothing more than waiting for mealtimes wasn’t enough activity for me.

If fifth grade camp taught me anything besides how to wear wet socks and underwear all day, it was learning to be flexible.

Learning how to take the cues from Mother Nature and roll with what she dictates. Sometimes, even though all you want to do is swim in the lake, you have to hang out on the front porch of the mess hall with the oldest guy on the planet and learn to whittle.

So now I'm spending a month whittling a new book

CampNaNoWriMo is my way of picking up a jack-knife and creating something cool while I watch and listen to the rain fall.

(As a side note, if I could make one request of Camp this time it would be to not have to be trucked out on a flatbed because the water level in the street is too high to get the bus to our campsite, please. Just sayin’. Thanks.)

And if I’m going to apply what I learned in fifth grade to my life now then I fully intend to keep in mind the theory of flexibility. That's why I'm not waiting until November.

I have a story in mind. A concept I'm dying to write. So why would I wait, quell inspiration, when I could just get it out now?

And truth? MS2 was going nowhere. Literally. It was stuck in a cabin and couldn’t get across the field because there was a big flood flowing straight out to the lake.

That flood was my inspiration for MS3. That flood was character development and ideas jamming into my head. I knew they had to get out. And I knew I couldn’t wait three months to release them or the dam might crack on its own.

So on August 1, the first day of Camp, I just started typing. And I’m already just under 4,000 words. Thing is, my draft is just like a stick I’m about to whittle. I have the tools and an idea what I want it to look like when it’s done, but right now it’s just a big lump of wood.

The genre is different from my usual Chick-Lit. There’s some suspense in there, lots of tension.

It's weird but I don't feel as connected to writing straight-up Chick-Lit anymore. I'm happily married so I’m finding it hard to conjure up the fantasy of the life of a single girl.

What I need to write, due to my “boring” life as a happily married gal, is some drama and excitement. Heart racing, blood pumping, chase scenes and fast driving, getaways and stakeouts, bad guys and good guys.


I don't want that kind of drama in my life, but I sure can make my lead female character have to chase down something espionage-y. Because as fiction writers aren’t we all just living vicariously through the characters we write anyway?

So I took off for the remote location in the woods and started writing it all down. It may be nothing. On the other hand the proverbial stick may just turn into a fully detailed and intricate carving where no grain of wood is left untouched.

I’ve got 46,000 words and 27 more rainy days to start working all that stuff out.

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