Ten Ways to Improve One Sentence

Warning: insane writers only need apply.

“They brought him no sweet lullabies, indeed, the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets, each calling him toward an inescapable future.”

— Averil, pondering a sword and a gift from a magical being, in Other Gods

Okay — I picked this sentence more or less randomly from my first novel.  Truthfully, I was looking for a less than ideal one.  So let’s looks at this together so you can use it to improve your own writing (I’ve highlighted changes in bold).

1 —

Check your commas and semi-colons —

“They brought him no sweet lullabies; indeed (cut comma) the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets — each calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Here I’ve added a semi-colon because ‘lullabies’ completes a thought, but it’s fair to tie these two thoughts together with a semi-colon.  Then there’s an extraneous comma, and lastly I add a line after ‘trumpets’ to put more emphasis on the final thought.

2 —

“They brought him no sweet lullabies; indeed the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets — each calling Averil toward an inescapable future.”

Brings more power to end with his name and stops us from using ‘him’ twice.

3 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed the heavy air of the stifling little room sang only with the slight ringing of ghost trumpets — each calling Averil toward an inescapable future.”

Here I’ve both named the gifts for impact and taken away the slightly forcing-it ‘sweet trumpets’.  Instead I’m trying to show an opposition between something good, like a gift, and something bad.

4 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to harshly to Averil each calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Woah, now everything’s changing.  After I lost ‘trumpets’ the rest of my analogy didn’t work.

5 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to harshly to Averil — their voices calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Unless there’s a real reason or cadence to explain it, change repeated words that are too close together, as I have with ’each’.

6 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to harshly to Averil.  (cut dash, and add a period) Their voices called him toward an inescapable future.”

I had to let one go, because having both the semi-colon and the dash felt wrong.

7 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort; indeed, in the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to Averil.  Their voices united against him, calling him toward an inescapable future.”

‘Harshly’ is gone, which is good because it was an ‘-ly’ word and I like the drama of making the audience wait and wonder what they are saying to him (and yes, even suspense fo a line counts as suspense).

8 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort. (cut semi-colon) In the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to Averil.  Their voices united against him, calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Annnd there goes the semi-colon (even though I love semi-colons).  I realized the changes meant that the that the gift not bringing him comfort no longer closely tied to his hearing their voice.  There is a connection, but not one close enough to a semi-colon in my book.

9 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort.  In the heavy air of the stifling little room each spoke to Averil, their voices united against him. They were calling him toward an inescapable future.”

Now I’ve grabbed the first part of the last sentence and added it to the second one.  The suspense is lessened but the drama is higher.

10 —

“The gifts brought him no comfort.  In the heavy air of the stifling room they spoke to Averil, their voices uniting against him.  Finally he passed into sleep, listening to whispers of danger, and taunts of destiny.

The other each is gone because ‘each’ sounded weird with ‘united’.  And ‘united’ became the more active ‘uniting’.   The whole last line is different too.  Is it better?  That’s what putting away your work for a few days into help you figure out.  Sometimes changes are good, and sometimes you find yourself returning the line to its former state.  Now there’s things I like about the original and it probably fits in better with my first whole book (there’s a lot of ’flowery’ but lovely writing in it).  That said, I think the improvements made it stronger, or could after another polish, and they reveal the more settled, more confident writer I’ve become.

Whatever you think of this line, just remember that editing is simply a matter of looking closely, playing around, and never settling for ’good enough’.

Good luck!

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4 thoughts on “Ten Ways to Improve One Sentence

  1. Pingback: Commas and Colons

  2. Pingback: Coming Up For Air! | Following The Dream

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