Let Your Tongue Be Your Guide

Few things are more detracting or confusing in a story than awkward word order. As an example I offer the following sentence from a book I recently read (out of respect for the author, it shall remain nameless):
“Burr buttercups grew between the grasses like snares, and in prairie dogs’ abandoned holes black widows, the size of succulent grapes, reigned.”
This sentence isn’t exactly unclear, but my eye stumbled as I read, and I had to go back over it a couple of times. My first pass had succulent grapes reigning. How much more smoothly it flows as
“... black widows as large as succulent grapes reigned in prairie dogs’ abandoned holes.”
“... abandoned prairie dogs’ holes were now home to black widows spiders the size of succulent grapes.”
We could probably find half a dozen more ways to tweak that sentence but most would leave the tone of the author’s voice. My primary emphasis here is on word order, not fine tuning wording. Let’s look at another example:
“At best it would be well over a year, realistically, assuming we were able to get the grant, before the funds would be available.”
Again, I had to reread to get the full drift of that one. Rearranging the components and a slight word tweak smooths it out.
“Assuming we were able to get the grant, realistically, it would be well over a year, maybe longer, before the funds would be available.”
Two important steps help ensure that your stories will flow smoothly. The first is to print them out. As you become increasingly comfortable writing on the computer, you become better at onscreen editing, but words always look different on paper. For the highest polish, print things out for final edits.

The other step is to read your work aloud. Any time your tongue stumbles, edit accordingly. Your tongue is the best guide to smooth reading.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal

1 comment :

Tara said...

Great tips Ritergal...I think they will become helpful as I go to edit a piece that I want to self-publish in the next month. Editing is what I worry about most.