Improving one’s prose in minutes #2: Pleonasms – Issa A. Dioume

This small posts aims only to help familiarise oneself with a tool writers can use at their leisure, it is not the way things should be, it is a way, one of many.

A Pleonasm is quite easy to define, it’s basically a redundancy in one’s prose on a sentence level. For example: “I saw the cat with my eyes.” Here the redundancy is in the act of seeing and the eyes. One can simply say: “I saw the cat”, and most people, pray they have eyes, will be able to understand what is meant and what human part is permitting the performance of this act. Pleonasms, in that sense, can cause an over-description of things. Typically this can create prose which feels heavy, clunky, unpolished. Another example of this could be this following one, a common one: “Out of nowhere, suddenly, he rushed, and pushed him brutally.” The obvious redundancy here is that, ‘out of nowhere’ and ‘suddenly’ express the same idea. This one may be inclined to pick only one of the two: “Suddenly, he rushed, and pushed him brutally.”

But, there is still an issue here. Namely that, there is a hidden redundancy. The word ‘Suddenly’ here is redundant with the verb to rush. Because rushing is almost always sudden, there is cause to question the use of the word suddenly: “He rushed, and pushed him brutally.” This sounds better. So unless you think the word ‘Suddenly’ adds something that ‘rushed’ does not already imply by itself, it can be erased and your prose will sound more polished without it and be more direct.

However, pleonasms CAN be used for good things! For example, when a writer wishes to put emphasis on a particular important sentence or object of the plot, he can employ Pleonasms or repetition to make sure the idea 💡 is well carried across! (Repetitions are a bit of a different case and can cause trouble when used inappropriately, but this is a talk for some other time.)

Anyway, here is yet another example of a Pleonasm which a lot of writers miss, some actually get published as such, they are easy to miss:

1) “He kneels down.” ( Problem: is kneeling ever done up? If it is in your world, using he kneeled up would be logical, because it isn’t a commonly understood fact, however here ‘down’ isn’t really necessary.)

2) “Brandon stood at the feet of the tree. Then, suddenly, he began to climb up the tree.” (Problem: here there’s a few, first off, we can take out he began because we can tell it’s a step by step telling of what’s happening and we don’t need to know he begins to do anything, unless you later describe the process of him climbing the tree which would mean that you were noting only the beginning of the act which encompasses a whole set of actions not yet mentioned. Secondly, up isn’t necessary because Brandon is at the feet of the tree. He can only ‘climb’ upwards. Also, it is expected generally with the word climb that it’s an ascension one is describing. However, if Brandon is already up the tree, and he decides to come down, one can say Brandon climbs down the tree. Because you don’t usually ‘climb down’. Also, one has to wonder how necessary the repetition is of ‘the tree’. If it isn’t, take it out.) The fixed sentence: “Brandon stood at the feet of the tree. Then, suddenly, he climbed it.

Small exercise you can try fixing all the pleonasms (one is hidden) and explaining why things don’t work:

He sat down on the stool but stood up soon after, once a minute had passed on the clock because his rear hurt too much, and he uttered the soundest words ever spoken aloud. “Ah, it hurts!”

I made this short as I could. I hope it helps, despite it’s shortness.

8 thoughts on “Improving one’s prose in minutes #2: Pleonasms – Issa A. Dioume

  1. I’m trying, as a general rule, to take out everything that isn’t necessary, from whole phrases to individual words. When you take that approach of severe pruning, it’s easier to pick out the pleonasms. Am I the only one who calls them neoplasms as often as pleonasms?

    Liked by 1 person

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