Don't State the Obvious

Posted by Kristen Hamilton on October 5, 2018 at 8:00 AM

If you're an author, you should know that your purpose is to create books that are as concise as possible. (After all, that's my number-one goal as your book editor: To help you create incredible, well-written books!) What does that mean? That means cutting out whatever words don't propel your book forward. 

And here's a really simple way to ensure that you're cutting out all those unnecessary words. Make your writing as clean and as crisp as possible with one simple tip: When it comes to body parts and their corresponding verbs, don't state the obvious! 

When explaining something your character is doing in your book, there's no need to include the body part that the character is nodding, kicking, squinting, shrugging, and so on. Let's take a look at a few examples.

Stan reached out his hand to pet the dog.

"Yes," Sarah said, nodding her head vigorously.

She shrugged her shoulders, unsure of the answer.

With a sigh, George kicked his foot at the dirt clog.

You may not immediately notice it, but all those extra words work to slow the pacing of each of those sentences. For comparison, let's try those sentences without the corresponding obvious body parts.

Stan reached out to pet the dog.

"Yes," Sarah said, nodding vigorously.

She shrugged, unsure of the answer.

With a sigh, George kicked at the dirt clog.

Certain body parts go with specific verbs: For example, it's impossible to "squint" anything else except for one's eyes. What else would you "shrug" if not your shoulders? In other examples, especially for more versatile verbs, the book's context might provide a hint on what body part a character is using. Here's an example using the verb "reach out" from David C. Shaw's Brain in a Jar.

She turned and, looking up into my machine’s glassy-black eyes,

she reached out to grasp the cold metal fingers of its hand in hers.

What are some other examples of verbs and obvious body parts going together? Here's my handy list I refer to when editing:

    • Reach out (his/her hand)
    • Nod (his/her head)
    • Shrug (his/her shoulders)
    • Kick (his/her foot/leg)
    • Squint (his/her eyes)

When you keep in these unnecessary body parts, all you're doing is clogging up your writing, slowing down your book's pacing, and making yourself look like less of a professional author and more of an amateur. So...don't state the obvious!

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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of

Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing

services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several

authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have

topped Amazon's best sellers lists.

Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she

can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her

four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,

eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is

likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.

Categories: writing

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