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