One Writer’s Journey: Picking out a muddled sentence

Come with me on a writer’s journey.

Writing is a journey. The grail might be writing the One True Prose on the first try, but I don’t know anybody who’s achieved it. Especially not me.

So I plan, then I write, then I edit. Then I read. Then I plan, write and edit some more. A key aspect of self-editing that I’ve discovered is the ability to see the problem in the first place.

One of my problems is the muddled sentence.

I’m taking my example from Biting Nixie (it’s handy, and I know how it got changed for the better. Always good to have the answer book 🙂  ). Bo’s a male vampire, friend of the hero Julian.

The scene: Chaos.  Violence.  Screams. 

Gaunt, fiery-eyed men rampaged outside.  Skull-headed, unnaturally fluid men with teeth like jagged glass.  Evil-looking men, seemingly hundreds of them.  A knot of red fire and flashing knives, surrounding… Surrounding Julian and Bo.

Here’s the original next paragraph:

Bo held a limp bundle, fought ferociously with one bare hand.  The bundle seemed to have two blonde heads.  Then I realized it was two people, one a child.  Both were as limp as puppets.  Neither moved.

Here are the revised paragraphs:

Bo held a limp bundle in one arm.  The bundle had two blonde heads.  I realized it was two people, one a child.  They seemed unconscious…or dead.

Bo fought ferociously with one hand.  He wielded what looked like a long knife, or a sword.  The blade whistled through the air, forcing the gaunt men back.

First, how did I know there was a problem with the original? Well, it feels muddled. It takes a bit of thinking to picture what’s going on. Something–language, sentence structure, something–has come between  the reader and the story.

Once I know something’s wrong, it’s a matter of figuring out exactly what it is. In this case, there’s two different things going on in that first sentence. “Bo held a limp bundle,” and he “fought ferociously”. The tension surrounding Bo’s limp bundle is lost because you’re immediately distracted by his fighting. To fix it I used a variation on the old bra slogan–Separate and Lift.  First paragraph talks about Bo’s limp bundles. Second brings in the fighting.

Clarity is vital in writing. Actions convey emotion to the reader. For greater impact, the actions (and thus the emotions) must be clear, discrete–separate. Kind of like color pixels separated by black on a high def TV gives you a better picture.

This isn’t the One True Prose. But it’s a step on the journey to get there.

Win a Biting Love ebook! I loved Nikki Duncan’s November 4 post so I’m also staging a drawing for commenters.

What about you? Do you have a favorite book on writing, or a writing gotcha to share? Or a special writing tic?

Comment on any or all. Commenters through November 20 will be entered into a drawing for any ebook title from my backlist  (erotic humorous paranormals). Share this post! Comment (with the share link) to get another entry. Adults only, please.

Happy writing!

16 Responses to “One Writer’s Journey: Picking out a muddled sentence”

  1. Cathy M Says:

    Hi Mary,
    Great post. As a reader I sometimes come across a sentence that just doesn’t flow, and jars me out of the moment. Then I end up going back a few sentences to try to figure out just what the author was trying to say.
    I have no background myself, to know what makes it a bad sentence, and appreciate an author and editor’s skill in producing a quality story that I can seamlessly immerse myself in from word one thru The End.

    caity_mack at yahoo dot com

    • Mary Hughes Says:

      Hi, Cathy M! Thanks for your comments! Yes, readers know when something doesn’t work even if they don’t pinpoint exactly what–it’s exactly that jarring sensation I was talking about. That phrase is great, by the way: “seamlessly immerse myself from word one thru The End.” Love it!

  2. Mrs. Missive Says:

    I already have all your books Mary, but I have to say that one of the ways I have found to catch bad writing on my part is to upload my prose to my Kindle and have it read to me.

    Just hearing another (very monotonous and robotic) voice read my stuff helps me catch the run-on sentences, and confusing bobbles that I tend to make when I am excited to get a scene on paper.

    I have read (okay skimmed and fell asleep to) a lot of books on writing. One of the only ones that I really found a few useful tools from was “Book in a Month” by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.

    • Mary Hughes Says:

      Hey, Mrs! Thanks for your comments! I never thought of loading text onto the Kindle for autoread, that’s brilliant. Adding Book in a Month to my TBR list…

  3. Colleen Says:

    I am not a writer and find it hard to put my words on paper… I have a terrific imagination, but do not have the ability to create the story or pics with words… My talent leans towards drawing!
    I thank all the authors that take the time to create such wonderful books for us to enjoy! 😀

    • Mary Hughes Says:

      Hi, Colleen! Thank you for your comments! I have to say I admire and appreciate artists, the eye and talent. Thanks for sharing that with authors, for the covers and websites that help readers choose to pick up our books!

  4. Fedora Says:

    Hi, Mary! I’m not a writer, but deeply appreciate you writers and how blessed I am to be able to enjoy the results of your talent and labor! As for books on writing, I love Tawny Weber’s fiction–she also has a book for writers:

    And Alison Kent often blogs about writing and craft:

    Thanks again for sharing your gift with us readers!

    • Mary Hughes Says:

      Hey, Fedora! Thanks for your comments! I’m adding Tawny Weber and Alison Kent to my TBR. There are a lot of people writing about writing, but I think the best ones ignite something in their readers, something that makes them memorable and worth sharing. So I really appreciate the recommendations!

  5. Tracey D Says:

    I’m not articulate and I mangle the Englis language, so I’m a supporter of writers and read their works!

    • Mary Hughes Says:

      Hi, Tracey D! Thank you for your comments, and especially your support! Personally I love a good language mangling–it’s one way truly creative expressions are born 🙂

  6. Stevie Carroll Says:

    Hi Mary,

    I think my most important rule (and I’ve seen it in many places) is to start each new action or observation in a new paragraph, unless there is a very, very good reason for breaking that rule.

    The other rule I keep in mind all the time is to avoid too many choppy paragraphs for no good reason, which sometimes clashes with the first.


    • Mary Hughes Says:

      Hi, Stevie! Thanks for your comments! Excellent rules. And then, oh, you’ve touched on the rub–when the rules clash, which do you choose? I’d guess it’s the one that works best with your voice?

  7. Devon Says:

    Hi Mary – Your revision in the example was perfect because it did clarify the scene, even in that very small snippet. You are lucky to be able to identify the problem and self-edit.
    As a reader, I often find myself randomly editing as I go along, especially in ebooks. I’m in a proofing group for a favorite author, and I like to think we help find those little issues that might disrupt the flow of a story.

  8. Devon Says:

    Hi Mary – Your example proved just how important a good edit can be – the revised paragraph was great by the way, really clarified the scene even in a small snippet.
    As a reader, I find myself mentally editing as I read. I think having someone else read/proof it helps tremendously because they have fresh eyes. You’re lucky that you are able to self edit. Reading an awkward sentence aloud seems to be helpful also.

    • Mary Hughes Says:

      Hi, Devon! Thank you for your comments! Two excellent approaches, reading aloud and having a second reader (I love how you phrased that—fresh eyes). (I’m also relieved to hear I’m not the only reader who mentally edits while reading 🙂 )

  9. Mary Hughes Says:

    And the winner of an ebook from the Biting Love series is–Stevie! Stevie, please email me at mary @ to claim your prize! (To see the books, please visit

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