I recently re-read a manuscript after ignoring it for several months. Time away from the words provided me a fresh perspective. In between being reintroduced to my characters, I was greeted by a fistful of typos I’d missed on the first seven edits. In addition, I found at least one awkward sentence every page or so. An awkward sentence makes sense and is grammatically correct, but doesn’t flow off the page with ease. Awkward sentences add invisible obstacles to the readers’ enjoyment. They may enjoy the story, but are prevented from being fully immersed in it.
Sometimes it’s merely context or the echo of similar words and phrases close by that creates a slight buzz in the readers’ ears. Or it could be a weak sentence construction.
An example from the edits I recently made…
“I’ll have them contact the Thai government to track down Ms. Perrault and her beau Travis Poole, an architect from San Francisco.”
The speaker is a male British intelligence officer. He’s talking to his contact. It’s a decent sentence, but it made me pause when I re-read the text. This doesn’t sound like a normal conversation between two people. It’s more like an info dump for the benefit of the reader. It would pull me a tiny bit out of the story.
Also, this particular tough guy wouldn’t call another man “beau.” And finally, the fact that Travis is an architect is background information for me alone as the writer. No one else cares what he does, nor will they ever hear of this guy again (he’s dead!).
Here’s the re-write…
“I’ll have them contact the Thai government to track down Ms. Perrault and her companion Travis Poole, some Yank from San Francisco.”
It’s a subtle change, but one that should make the story more solid.
Here are some of my favorite ways to locate awkward sentences on a finished draft…
Time Away From the Book
The best way to find awkward sentences is to set the book aside for a few weeks and then re-read. With a clearer head, you should be able to pick them out easier.
Print Out the Book.
Reading a hard copy of a manuscript also helps to find flaws that your mind would otherwise skim over. Although it can be expensive with bigger manuscripts, I’ve found that printing in draft form and/or double sided lowers the cost of ink and paper.
I love taking a stack of paper with my draft on it and leaving my office to read in a new setting. Doing this with a hot cup of coffee while sitting on the edge of a garden (or in front of a roaring fire in the winter) can turn a day of editing into something relaxing and memorable.
Read the Book Aloud.
It never fails. I say a sentence I’d crafted out loud and words jump off my tongue in sing song tone. This would be quite lovely in a sweet scene. When I’m looking for tension, and the heroine is running for her life, however, rhymes can ruin the mood.
I also hear echoed words more than I see them on the page. In one paragraph, I wrote “under” three times. I’d never noticed how grating the words sounded together until saying “under” again and again and again. When I simply read it over, I’d missed it, despite it sounding strange and repetitive. (the last sentence contains three “it”s and the sentence is awkward to read) Read it out loud- not pretty.
So when you’re done with your “final” draft, go back and polish and create something more than a fun read, create a memorable story. Readers may not understand why they are drawn to your book over others, but they’ll be more apt to re-read it and recommend it to their friends and family.
Veronica Forand is an attorney and an award-winning writer of romantic suspense.
She’s lived in Boston, London, Paris, Geneva, and Washington, DC and currently resides near Philadelphia. An avid traveler, she loves to roam across continents with her husband and kids in pursuit of skiing, scuba diving, and finding the perfect piece of chocolate.
Veronica is represented by Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary Agency.
Her romantic suspense short story, “Code Red” was recently published by Boroughs Publishing Group, and her romantic novella “Tackled by the Girl Next Door” co-written with the awesome Susan Scott Shelley will release on October 15.