Watch Out for Redundancies

I edit large manuscripts, which means that on a given week, I probably read about one thousand pages. Eight hundred of those pages may be devoted to work, and two hundred are for pleasure. I can’t tell you how often I run across phrases that are redundant.

Here are some examples of redundant or irrelevant terms:

“Jack came home at 4a.m. in the morning.” It’s fine to use one or the other; 4 a.m. or four in the morning is sufficient. Saying both is repetitive.

“The suspect is armed and dangerous.”Unless we are talking about a soldier or a police officer, armed says it all for me when referring to someone who might hit up a convenience store, particularly because the person has already been called a suspect.

“Before he put his briefcase away, the professor checked for text messages on his cell phone.” Unless you’re trying to distinguish a cell phone from an iPad or a Skype conversation, a text usually comes from a cell phone. Nine times out of ten, you can safely say, “Before he put his briefcase away, the professor checked his text messages.”

Last, “Mahendra brought his two parents to school for student teacher night.” Most people have two parents. It’s understood. Some people in blended families have three parents or four parents as a result of divorce, and other people are single parents. If you want to highlight the fact that Jimmy has two parents instead of four or only one, go ahead. But chances are people will assume that there are two parents. Hence, the sentence can be written: “Mahendra brought his parents to school for student teacher night.”

Looking for redundancies is easy once you get used to paying more attention to detail during the writing process or when you are rewriting.

If it does, the editor will play a completely different role than the writer. Let’s say that the writer has written a novel and submitted it to a developmental editor. The editor will examine the manuscript very carefully to assess character development, background setting, conflict between and within characters, and the resolution of the plot. A developmental editor may recommend many changes in the story to make it more clear, consistent, or less wordy. A newspaper editor may look for potential legal problems, and the editor of a charitable foundation may look for inaccuracies in the monthly report. After the author has implemented some of these recommendations, the manuscript goes for copyediting.

The Sad Young Sergeant (A Short Story, Concerning Agent Orange)

((… Agent Orange) (1971, Fort Rucker, Alabama))

His dull face showed a shade of vengeance by some inward self-satisfaction needed, a smugness almost that appeared to offend him, yet gave him content, if not joy-it wasn’t in his nature, but it was there nonetheless, that he found something out of nothing, and now could utter what it was, he had learned the name for it, ‘Agent Orange.’

“They fired bombs and guns I thought,” he told Lee, adding, “I never expected to live through the war, only to die at the hands of some mysterious, infectious chemical agent called ‘Agent Orange.'” He told Lee Evens, his back against the wall, chair up on its two hind legs, Joe Montgomery, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, it was the summer of 1977 (furthermore he added, ‘It had a delayed reaction, somehow’), nine-years, then buff, all of a sudden it was there’).

“It was Lee, to me, the final boom! And now it is the last part of the war for me, which I thought was over nine-years ago, evidently I was wrong. Yes indeed, a lost war, that I forgot was still embedded in me, to my death do I part with it.”

Furthermore, added Joe (in a voice of discontent), “they all fell dead around us, when we went to pick them up, to check out their pockets for papers, and so forth, they were silent, discoloured; the dead are smelly, and ugly, and discoloured, and bloated, and just awful.” He said to Lee, at the mess hall.

Then Joe’s hand started to shake, I mean really shake, as if it his system was on automatic, like someone under electric shock, his left arm, dancing in the air, as he looked at it, then Joe looked at Lee, looking at him, “You see, I have no control over it,” and his face started to pulsate, and his legs seemed to tap, and his back arched. He had to let go of his coffee, and his spoon, he had to wait for his system to cool down. He no longer was in control.

After a moment’s agony, he smiled again, “Everyday now, it gets worse,” he tells Lee, Lee looking, unable to speak, and if he could what would he say, so he told himself.

“No kidding aside, I’ll be dead in two months, so the doctor tells me, and my lawyers say, this substance was used by the army for experimental purposes in several areas in Vietnam, during the time I was there, and I was in one of those several areas, and they are unsure of the effects, but here they are, in full motion, yet I fear my family will not see any money from this for years, it’s under investigation, and you know what that means in the Army. Listen up, you need to check out and see if you were in any of these areas, I mean it lays dormant for years, and then like an eruption from a volcano, it explodes one day.”

“How long you been in the Army?” asked Sergeant Evens.

“Going on fifteen-years, I won’t live to get my pension; perhaps now you understand Sergeant Lee (right then the spoon fell out from under his fingers).”

Under the stringent circumstances, Sergeant Joe Montgomery, still had remarkable agility, and his large black frame, bruised here and there, kept a smile on his face, knowing somehow, there was no escape from his fate, yet, with the brief time he had left, he was not going to ask for pity, or any such thing, and let it imprison him, he committed no crime, he was the victim, and said, sadly, “Too bad I loved the Army so, and it would have been great to get to know you better Lee,” and then I noticed across his arm he had a tattoo of the American Flag, underneath it, it read, “The American Flag, with all its Glory!”

1-4-2008 (Written in Lima, Peru)

Interpreters of Maladies – Sensuous Symbols

Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize and received literary fame for her series of short stories. There are several symbols in one of her short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. The major symbols are: the strawberry necklace around Mrs. Das’ neck, which rested between her breasts, the naked intimate statutes at the temple which she admired, and the paper with Mr. Kapasi’s address, which blew out of her pocket book and into the wind.

The short story, Interpreters of Maladies, focuses on an Indian-American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Das, who are on vacation in India with their three children. They are chauffeured by an Indian taxi driver who developed an immediate affection for Mrs. Das. His imagination focused on comparing Mrs. Das with his wife in a sensual manner.

The strawberry necklace around Mrs. Das’s neck, which rested between her breasts serves as a symbol of her sensuousness. Mr. Kapasi’s infatuation for Mrs. Das started at this point. He found her irresistible. The strawberry resting between her breasts on the tightly fitted undershirt styled blouse, reminded Mr. Kapasi of the ripeness of her breasts as a symbol of her femininity. He watched her through the rear view mirror. This allowed him to daydream of an irresistible relationship with Mrs. Das, one he never had with his wife.

The naked statutes at the Sun Temple were symbols of intimacy to Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das. Mr. Kapasi watched her reactions to the naked statutes and their love making positions. He was pleased that she stopped every three or four paces and stared at the carved lovers and topless females. He also gazed at the topless figures as his mind wandered on Mrs. Das with intensity while he subsequently gazed with affection upon her profile. This led to his continued daydreaming about her. He saw her in a more sexually appealing way than his wife.

The slip of scrap paper with Mr. Kapasi’s name and address which was in Mrs. Das’s pocketbook signified a connection between them. He even daydreamed about having future contacts with her. However, when she revealed to him her secret of infidelity regarding her son Bobby’s birth, it changed their relationship from positive to negative. She was not pleased by his reaction, walked away, and went in search of her husband and children. When they re-entered the taxi, the paper with the address blew out of Mrs. Das’s pocketbook and into the wind. The only person who noticed the paper as it blew away was Mr. Kapasi. This served as a symbol of loss infatuation to Mr. Kapasi. The event signified the ending of their relationship.

This short story by Jhumpa is authentic, original, and enjoyable to read. I like this story because it is closely related to reality. It touched on events that could possibly occur on a daily basis between individuals in various settings. The symbols in the story provided enrichment to the text and enhanced its interpretation. It is a great story which should be read by individuals interested in understanding various cultural myths and symbolism.

© Joseph S. Spence, Sr. All Rights Reserved