Many times, I turn down some critiques simply out of a stylistic basis, other times, though, I think there is an interesting and very logical reason for turning down a critique. That is the idea behind today’s blog topic.
On a small scale, when only looking at a sentence or two, there are words that seem to repeat an idea or theme and someone will say ‘you don’t need this.’ On a small scale of basic meaning and placement they may be right. However, on the larger scale of things like theme, tone, and mood, these words actually become very important and they serve a function that no longer seems useless or redundant.
What do I mean?
I got a fantastic example in a piece I just had critiqued. The sentence is:
“I nodded, mutely.”
I had two critiquers argue that nods are mute/mute forms of communication and so I didn’t need the word ‘mutely’ added. They do have a point and are completely right on the small scale of things.
However the word ‘mutely’ actually adds important things to the story.
1)A nod, the noun, is most definitely silent, however nodding, the verb isn’t always. Someone can nod and speak at the same time, so mutely adds a bit more to the action.
2)Just because a nod is considered ‘mute,’ doesn’t mean that’s the first thing a reader thinks. If you say a character nodded, the first, main, and probably only thing a reader will get when the read the word ‘nod,’ is that the character is agreeing. While it is probably implied that the agreement is silent, the reader won’t really care, or even think about the silence factor and thus any sort of importance the silence has will be lost. Therefore, you, as the writer, need to emphasize the silent part of the assent to get a point/feeling/idea across. In this case, adding a word like ‘mutely,’ will help call attention and highlight the silence, and, in this case, the silence is more important than the assent.
Writing is about leading the reader where you want them to go, and an extra words sometimes makes all the difference, as long as you understand why.
“How do you know?” she asked.
A while back, I was picked on, and I mean that in the fondest sense, a few times for using ‘asked’ when the sentence was already a question. On one hand, yes, you technically shouldn’t need the word ‘asked.’ Or in this case queried, or questioned, or verbs of the questioning sort.
The thing is, choosing to say ‘asked,’ or leaving a tag out completely has a profound effect on the way you read something and how conceptualize a story. There’s a big difference in seeing a question mark and then actually reading ‘asked.’ The emphasis with the dialogue tag is put on the fact a question is asked, and, in terms of style, adds or changes the cadence of a sentence. Both of those things, in my humble opinion, are more important than the perceived redundancy of a question mark followed by the word ‘asked.’ In other words the combination serves a more important function than simply being a dialogue tag.
Now, of course, sometimes this combination is not necessary. Sometimes it is better to leave them out in terms of style or how you want a reader to see a sentence, but again, you have to look at all scales when working on a story and really understand why you use a word where you do. What may seem useless, valueless, and redundant, may really be more important than you realize.