Sometimes real examples of writing issues are easier to understand than lengthy, complicated explanations. In this new series (see the list of “Real Examples of Various Writing Issues“) you’ll see various real-life writing problems and suggested solutions.
Examples of Issues with Making Sense:
In the following cases, the writer might want to consider some changes to make more sense. Can you see what the problem is in each case? Do you agree with the editor’s remarks and suggested changes? If not, what solution would you suggest?
[In this piece of dialogue, which sets the scene for the story, the sheriff is very angry and is expressing his frustration to one of his deputies. Here’s what he says:] “This town has become ungovernable. Two of my deputies have pulled up stakes and left town, leaving me and two others to try to maintain peace for our citizens. It is utter mayhem out there, and though I swore an oath to maintain law and order, I cannot do it. The lawlessness has reached the point that it has become uncontrollable with my limited resources.”
–> I see how you are setting the scene with these comments. However, it seems to me that you need to make it sound more realistic. Example: “Those cowards, (name) and (name), turned tail and skipped town, and now there’s no way for the rest of us to keep peace in this stupid town. Ha! Maintain peace and order! How the hell are we supposed to do that when it’s utter mayhem out there? Especially with practically no resources? Impossible!”
“Someone shot her in the head, and she died on the sidewalk and since the town funeral director closed shop and left town there is no one to remove the body.”
–> Can you strengthen this? Make it more evocative? Perhaps: “…she just died there, laying right on the sidewalk in a pool of her own blood. Who’s supposed to remove the body? Even the funeral director has closed shop and left town!”
“You know the old folk’s home? Well, l heard that the low water pressure would not reach the second and third floors. It turned out that water thieves were draining the building’s water from an outside faucet. Neighbours found that the top floor residents had all died from dehydration .”
–> This paragraph seems a bit odd, even with the town’s dire lack of water. Is no one working at the home? Are the people on the top floor trapped there so they can’t get to water lower down? I can imagine them finding one or two dead, but all of them? Can you rewrite it so it makes more sense?
“I have learned that coincidences are clues to the intention of the universal spirit, messages from the non-local realm, guiding us to make our intentions manifest.”
–> When you use terminology like this, be sure to “define” it in some way—by straight-out saying what it means or by showing what it means through actions that are part of your story. You have spent a long time reading these kinds of materials, but you can’t assume your readers will have the same understanding. Remember when these words were all new to you, too? Think of how other writers explained these terms in easy, helpful ways.
“In a very vivid dream, I had lived through an event that happened to the biblical Mary.”
–> Since there are a number of women named Mary who were important in the life of Jesus, you might want to specify which one, for example: “…to the biblical Mary, the mother of Jesus” OR “…to the biblical Virgin Mary.” This will make clear who you are referring to, instead of leaving the reader to wonder if you might alternatively mean Mary Magdalene or other women named Mary.
“I felt lost in understanding the supernatural and my entanglement with it.”
–> This is a bit unclear. How did you feel “lost”? Was it confusion? Was the supernatural dragging you into a dark place? These are thoughts that might come to the reader. You might want to rewrite this sentence, for example: “On top of that was my growing knowledge of the supernatural and my experiences with it, which I feared no one would understand or accept.” (Also, the word “entanglement” sounds negative—is that what you want to mean?)
“He was just as comfortable sleeping out under the stars each night as he was in the barn.”
–> Does this make sense in a place where rainy, windy cold nights are much more common than dry, warm ones?
[After the character had been shot in the head from close range:] “But his brain was hollowed out, leaking, no longer sending messages. One second. Two seconds. A kaleidoscope of images flashed through his mind.”
–> I’m curious … if his brain is hollowed out, how can he still be seeing all these images in his mind?
“As she entered the pub, she immediately noticed it had 8 flat screens, a karaoke area, two pool tables and a darts board.”
–> It seems unlikely to me that she would “immediately” know the exact number of flat screens, especially while simultaneously noting everything else while in the process of entering. Perhaps just: “… it had several flat screens.…” (Two pool tables is okay because they are large and she could easily and quickly see there are two.)
Did reading the above examples help you understand the need to self-edit carefully, to ask a beta-reader to check your writing, and to think carefully whether what you’ve written makes sense? What did you learn from these examples?