Stop and Check for Clarity
By Annette Rey
As writers, we can get lost in our own words. We get absorbed in our stories and we concentrate on many aspects of putting our story together. Often, our fingers are moving slower than the speed of our mental thoughts, and mistakes are made.
Let’s put a concentrated eye on unclear sentences that confuse the reader. Once you become aware of these errors, you will be able to correct them.
While in the creation process, you know what you are trying to say. You know what messages or thoughts you are trying to convey. Maybe you think you have all of your sentences constructed exactly right. Maybe your story hangs together from beginning to end. But, from your readers’ point of view, some sentences can still be unclear.
For instance, you might quickly read over the following sentences and accept them as correct. They need to be improved, so take a closer look.
- They came today to feed the fish; some of them had babies. — Was it they who came that had the babies, or did the fish have babies?
- His muscular arms engulfed her, their tattoos read like a global map. — Do the tattoos adorn the muscular arms, or do both characters have tattoos?
- Brutal hands twisted her hair and brought her to the floor, amid cries of “Why? Why?” — Who is pleading why, the attacker or the victim?
As the writer, you know the answer to those scenes you are portraying. If you look at your work from the readers’ point of view, you will likely catch these ambiguous sentences. You will need to reconsider your word choices for the sake of clarity.
How would you reword the above sentences? Correct them as an exercise. You may find making two sentences is the better choice.
Now go through your work, and try to spot similar ambiguities. Create work that does not make your reader pause in confusion. Make your work fluently draw your readers in, and delight them to stay.