9 Paragraph Problems Begging to Be Reworded

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“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

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If a paragraph doesn’t seem to read quite right, look for the following problems.

1.  Confusing Sentences in a Confusing Order

Changing jobs would solve my problem. I hated my job and its long hours. Especially my slave-driver boss, who always found another task for me to complete before heading home. 

Better:

I hated my job and its long hours. My slave-driver boss always found another task for me to complete before I headed home. I needed to find a new job.

2. There was/It was

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There was much to do on the farm. I never had time to go out with friends or take a girl to the movies. It was frustrating and made me angry.

Better:

Farm chores ate up most of my time. I couldn’t go out with friends or take a girl to the movies. I became frustrated and angry.

3.  Phrases out of Order

I shut down my laptop, filled a box with all my belongings, and left my resignation letter on the boss’s desk at the end of the day.

Better:

At the end of the day, I shut down my laptop, filled a box with all my belongings, and left my resignation letter on the boss’s desk.

4.  Weak Pronoun Ending a Paragraph

My husband burned my favorite pot, our dog ran away with a poodle, and my son brought home a report card with straight Ds. I didn’t know how to deal with it.

Better:

My husband burned my favorite pot, our dog ran away with a poodle, and my son brought home a report card with straight Ds. I didn’t know how to deal with the catastrophes.

5.  Wrong Word Used

The bell rang, and the students scattered into their classrooms.

Better:

The bell rang, and the students funneled into their classrooms.

6.  Repeated Words

Because there was an APB issued, there must be enough policemen there to handle the pursuit.

Better:

Because an APB was issued, enough policemen must have arrived in the area to handle the pursuit.

7.  Speaker Attribute Too Distanced from the Beginning

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“If I’d started the day earlier, I could have completed all my housework, done the shopping, helped the kids with their homework, and then killed my husband,” Jean said.

Better:

“If I’d started the day earlier,” Jean said, “I could have completed all my housework, done the shopping, helped the kids with their homework, and then killed my husband.”

8. Unnecessary Explaining

After paying the bribe, I was low on cash. For Mom’s birthday, I gave her a ring I bought at a pawn shop. She loves jewelry. Ever since she was a young girl, she spent her allowance on jewelry. She even bought me earrings for my sixth birthday. If she learned the source of my purchase, she’d throw the ring back in my face.

Better:

After paying the bribe, I was low on cash. For Mom’s birthday, I gave her a ring I bought at a pawn shop. She loves jewelry, but if she learned the source of my purchase, she’d throw the ring back in my face.

 9. Informal People Never Using Contractions

Sherry would not forget Dan’s blunder. “You are not my kind of person anymore, Jack. I will tell the gang to snub you.” If only she had not met the creep.

Better:

Sherry wouldn’t forget Dan’s blunder. “You aren’t my kind of person anymore, Jack. I’ll tell the gang to snub you.” If only she hadn’t met the creep.

What paragraph problem do you usually catch when you edit?

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Don’t Over Explain: Readers Get It the First Time

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Most authors have heard or read RUE, Resist the Urge to Explain.

In the example paragraph below, see if you can spot where the author has not resisted the urge to explain.

Passage With Unnecessary Explaining

Officer Pierce jumped the fence, the heel of his boot grazing the rail. The rail was higher than any man of his height could scale easily. Once he hit the ground, he regained his speed, churning his legs as fast as he could. “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” he yelled in a loud voice. The perp raced forward, bent on outrunning Officer Pierce. He didn’t look back to check how close Pierce was.

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Pierce ran faster. He tripped, fell, and rolled on the grass. His foot must have caught on a rock protruding from the ground. When he sprang to his feet, the perp was gone. Pierce searched the area, looking in all directions. No luck. He didn’t get a break. Discouraged and his head hanging over his chest, he trudged to his vehicle, the SUV he’d used in the pursuit.

Unnecessary Explaining

  1. Explaining the height of the rail slows the pace of the chase and is unnecessary.
  2. The author doesn’t need to tell how someone regains his speed. It’s usually making his legs move faster.
  3. The exclamation mark is used to let readers know someone is yelling, which means they are talking loudly.
  4. Most perps are bent on escaping their pursuers.
  5. Explaining that the perp didn’t look back to gauge how close Pierce was slows the pace of the chase.
  6. Explaining how Pierce could have tripped may be the author intruding to give a plausible reason the reader doesn’t care about. If it’s Pierce’s thoughts, it seems unlikely he’d be trying to figure out what tripped him, when all he cares about is catching the perp.
  7. When one searches an area, they usually look in all directions.
  8. No luck means Pierce didn’t get a break. One expression will suffice.
  9. His head hanging and his trudging show his discouragement.
  10. Readers would assume his vehicle is the car he used in pursuit.

An Improved Version of the Passage

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Officer Pierce jumped the fence, the heel of his boot grazing the rail. Once he hit the ground, he regained his speed. “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” The perp raced forward.

Pierce ran faster. He tripped, fell, and rolled on the grass. When he sprang to his feet, the perp was gone. He searched the area. No luck. His head hanging over his chest, he trudged to his cruiser.

 

Try this exercise to spot an author’s unnecessary explaining. Click to tweet.

What bothers you most about authors explaining actions and dialogue?

 

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