Imbalancing Acts

Is a grammatically correct sentence the same thing as a well-written sentence? If it were, writers would never need anything more than a line editor and proofreader. Unfortunately, grammatically correct sentences can still be difficult to read. Take a look at this sentence:

“Where are we going first?” Carla asked the woman we were working with to help determine the best course of action to find the demon horde in order to defeat them.

There’s nothing wrong with this sentence in terms of spelling and grammar. But if you think this is a good sentence, think again. The problem here is that you’re weighing down the back of the sentence with a lot of information. In grammatical terms, the noun modifier (all the stuff that’s written after “the woman”) is so loaded down with information, the reader experiences something akin to wading through chest-high mud.

Writing good sentences means making sure information flows smoothly from start to finish. Consider what the writer is trying to do in that example. The writer wants to let the reader know the following:

  1. There’s a demon horde.
  1. The group is trying to defeat said horde.
  1. They need to come up with a plan to do so.
  1. The first part of the plan is to find out where the demon horde might be.
  1. There is a woman they’re working with to come up with that plan.
  1. Carla (one of the group) is asking the woman how to achieve that first part of the plan.

In a good sentence, information typically flows from a general idea to a specific idea (as we have done in the numbered sequence above). With that in mind, let’s rearrange the information:

We had to come up with a way to find the demon horde in order to defeat them, and the woman had the answers we needed.

“Where are we going first?” Carla asked.

See how we lead from general (find and defeat the demon horde) to specific (ask the woman, who may know how to do so)? Not only does it solve the problem of the unbalanced sentence up top, the writer is also moving the reader smoothly from start to finish by arranging the information in a logical sequence.

In addition, the new arrangement takes the burden off the dialogue tag. Instead of a piece of dialogue followed by a tag that also tries to provide a lot of information, we take the information out, provide it separately, then use a simple tag (“Carla asked”) which does all a tag is supposed to do: let the reader know who’s speaking.

Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!

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