Department of Redundancy Department by Annette Lyon

Sometimes when I go over a first draft, I run into hilarious problems like dangling modifiers, inconsistencies, and repetition.

One common repitition problem in first drafts is writers repeating themselves by trying too hard to abide by the adage of “show, not tell.”

So they do both: they tell something, then show it. Or vice versa: show it, then recap it by telling what we just saw. I’m guilty of this myself and must weed out repetition from early drafts.

An example:

Sue cried. Plump tears fells down her cheeks as racking sobs wrenched from her throat.

Do we really need to state that Sue cried? The tears and sobs sort of make that self-explanatory, no?

You might think that’s an over-the-top exaggeration, but it’s surprisingly easily for redundancies like that to slip in, even when they sound obvious and funny when they’re pointed out.

Hence our friend: revision!

The other day, I stumbled across a fun blog post that viewed redundancy in a way I hadn’t thought of before: using adjectives and nouns together that say the same thing.

The post is by Scott over at Slice of Diction. He made a list of 30 redundant adjective-noun word pairs. Check out the post link above for the full list.

Here are a couple of my favorites he came up with, each of which make me snicker and go, “As opposed to . . .?”

  • amorous romance
  • contentious dispute
  • cryptic mystery
  • insane lunacy
  • rural countryside
  • stupid idiot
  • uniquely different

My gut reaction (after laughing) was to think of the flip side: A cool writing exercise would be to find unexpected adjectives, ones that are counter to the noun you put them next to. That could change the meaning or image in surprising and really cool ways.

(Okay, so there’s also the point that a writer shouldn’t over-use adjectives. Note to self: use adjectives only when needed. Make the most out of your writing toolbox.)

Using some of Scott’s words, instead the obvious amorous romance, what about a tempestuous romance?

Or a brilliant idiot?

A peaceful dispute?

Commonly different?
(Reminds me of the “non-conformists” I went to high school with. They refused to conform . . . by wearing black eyeliner, black duster coats, and hair that required Aqua Net to defy gravity. They all looked the same by non-conforming?)

Story and character ideas are already popping up for me simply by thinking of new, unexpected word pairs.

Just for fun, let’s see what we can come up with here!

Think of adjective-noun redundancy word pairs.

In the comments, throw out your best repetitive word pair (be sure it’s adjective + noun).

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Annette Lyon  is a Whitney Award winner, the recipient of Utah’s Best of State medal for fiction, and the author of eight novels, a cookbook, and a grammar guide, plus over a hundred magazine articles. She’s a senior editor at Precision Editing Group and a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English. When she’s not writing, editing, knitting, or eating chocolate, she can be found mothering and avoiding the spots on the kitchen floor. Find her online at and on Twitter: @AnnetteLyon.

Need a little extra grammar help? Get Annette’s grammar book, There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd.

2 thoughts on “Department of Redundancy Department by Annette Lyon”

  1. I catch myself doing this ALL the time in first drafts. I’ll say things like “light drizzle” when a drizzle is by definition light. Drives me crazy, but I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one.

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