How to Fix Awkward Writing

The major difficulty in giving advice about writing is that there is a gulf of difference between theory and practice. It is extraordinarily easy to tell someone that their story needs a stronger climax or that their work sounds awkward and stilted, but explaining how to fix these things in a real, practical way is extremely difficult. That’s why today, we’re going to take some time to go over some practical demonstrations with a couple examples of common problems and easy ways to fix them.

Let’s begin with something that almost everyone has trouble with. Can you spot the problem with the following passage?

There was a loud roar as the ground began to shake and the trees began to sway and Jack knew that the creature had torn free from his shackles and broken from the cage. He was coming for him now and nothing would or could stop it this time.

If you’re having trouble spotting the problem, try reading it out loud. Notice how awkward it is? Anyone reading this will probably end up breathless and stumbling over words, because the writer has made a few simple mistakes.

Run-Ons Make for Awkward Sentences

First, they’ve opened with a major run-on sentence. That first sentence is actually five sentences crammed together.

There was a loud roar.

The ground began to shake.

The trees began to sway.

Jack knew that the creature had torn free from his shackles.

Jack knew that the creature had broken from the cage.

It’s understandable why the writer might have tried this, they’re trying to get across the panic and fear of Jack, but the result is something that’s just difficult to read. Instead, a better approach is to break it up a little more while still maintaining the breathless quality.

There was a loud roar as the ground shook and the trees swayed. Hearing the sounds, Jack knew that the creature had torn free from his shackles and broke out of its cage.

The second sentence also has a problem with how confusing the action becomes. The first thing to fix is the typo, where the creature is referred to as “he” instead of “it”:

It was coming for him now and nothing would or could stop it this time.

Deliver a Punch for More Exciting Writing

Finally, the entire passage lacks a strong punch. The last few words are half-hearted and devoid of any emotion. Try tearing them apart and using the final bit as punctuation, a grim bit of finality that will really sell Jack’s fear of what’s happening.

It was coming for him now and nothing would stop it this time. Nothing could stop it this time.

Now, it’s just a matter of putting it all together and cleaning it up a bit so that we get something like:

There was a loud roar as the ground shook and the trees swayed. Jack heard the sounds and knew that the creature had torn free from his shackles, breaking from its cage. It was coming for him now and nothing would stop it this time. Nothing could stop it this time.

Sounds like Jack might be in a bit of trouble. Hopefully. we can help him out next time, when we’ll be discussing character motivations and how to use them to get your characters into and out of trouble. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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