Misadventures in Wordcraft

Say what?

Proofreading your own work is a good idea. You’ll catch some typos and maybe a few usage errors or verb tense disagreements. It is more difficult for the author of a piece to evaluate the clarity of his/her own work. After all, we know what we meant when we wrote it. That is probably going to cause us to see what we meant when we read it.

Sometimes, a sentence can be interpreted in more than one way. The results may be hilarious or just confusing. This kind of ambiguity can cause readers to pause, disrupting the rhythm of the story. Alternatively, they may misinterpret the meaning of the sentence and go forward with a key misunderstanding.

Getting more eyeballs on your manuscript will help. Brooks and I have three sets of eyeballs going over the draft of our WIP. When we are done, we’ll get it in front of some beta-readers. That doesn’t mean it will be perfect before we release it. Sometimes 100 people read and understand the sentence just as you intended. That doesn’t mean reader 101 won’t see the sentence in an entirely different way. If there is a way to misunderstand your meaning, there is always someone out there who will.

Here are some examples:

His father died when he was only twelve years old.
Wow. I suppose it’s possible to become a father by age twelve, but then to die? That just sucks.

Sergeant Mowbry could clearly see the sniper with his night vision goggles.
I wonder how the sniper got Sgt. Mowbry’s night vision goggles.

He had been trying to convince her to marry him for two years.
If you can talk anyone into a two-year marriage, you’re a better man than I.

We thought the children would make healthy snacks.
Children – they’re not just for breakfast anymore.

As they rounded the corner, he saw her duck.
I’ll bet you didn’t even know she had a duck.

The fire was started because of this smouldering cigarette left by the couch.
That’s what happens when you let your furniture smoke.

He shot a man every year on his birthday.
Who is this poor guy he shoots? Can you imagine someone shooting you every year?

After the priest performed the last rites, he died peacefully.
If the priest dies after giving you your last rites are you still good, or do you have to start over with another priest?

Jen removed her blouse to distract the guard with the ugly scar.
Please tell me it was the guard who had the ugly scar.

He was last seen in the company of his wife and daughter.
I am seriously hoping the wife and daughter are two different people.

There they stood, Fred in his business suit with Jack in his tennis outfit clinging to him.
One can’t be sure if Jack is clinging to Fred or the tennis outfit is clinging to Jack.

You get the point. Most of these examples can be easily fixed with simple restructuring.Yet, the sentence was written that way for a reason. These types of mistakes are often the result of trying to avoid using character names in every single sentence. Alex walked over to the car. Alex put the key in the ignition. The car blew up, killing Alex. That makes for pretty tedious reading.

Work at finding these in your own writing. Improved clarity will make for a better reading experience.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and co-administrator of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

23 thoughts on “Misadventures in Wordcraft”

  1. Stephen Hise wrote a great post in red pyjamas… how on earth?… well Canada Day is coming soon. I enjoyed this post. It’s so true about the details in one’s own work. I edit others and am amazed at what my own editor finds re continuity. Thanks Stephen. Happy Canada Day on Monday.

  2. Excellent post. Trying to spot these unintended sentences in one’s own writing is difficult, and this is a great reminder to employ some lateral thinking!

  3. You’re so right, Stephen. I’ve been a manuscript assessor/editor for 20 years and I’ve seen some shockers. I still love the old wombat one: Eats, roots and leaves.

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