“I know all those words, but that sentence makes no sense to me.”? Matt Groening
How many of us have been there when we’re reading? You read a sentence, then read it again, then shake your head. If the book or script is good otherwise you may well try continuing to read, hoping you won’t run across another sentence like it, or you might give up. For myself, I plunge on as soon as I can sort the meaning out, but be warned writer, do it again and you’re likely to lose me as a reader.
As a writer, those kinds of sentences are horrifying. Especially if you wrote it! I doubt there’s a writer out there who hasn’t been rereading a piece he or she’s written and paused, did a double take and wondered, ‘what was I thinking?’ It’s kind of a scary zone to be in and it just re-emphasizes the need to reread time and again. And if possible, ask others to read as well.
And may I add, reading out loud doesn’t hurt either when making sure the material you’ve written actually reads smoothly and makes sense. It’s all part of keeping readers in the wonderful fantasy trance they enjoy when picking up a book to escape with.
So how do jumbled, unintelligible sentences and paragraphs happen?
It’s so easy as the writer to make this error. You know what you’re thinking, you know the plot and what the characters are up to and you might have gotten into a real zone, writing furiously, sure every word you’re laying down is brilliant. You become blind to what’s actually being laid down on the page (whether computer screen or paper) because you know what’s happening and it’s downright exciting.
At other times you might be tired, have written past your limit and what comes out onto the page when you press on isn’t the most intelligible copy. Sometimes you have to write it badly first, that’s okay.
But, this is why writers talk about, emphasize and beat to death the idea of rewrite.
Rewriting, editing and rereading is where you can catch jumbles like what Mr. Groening is talking about.
Regrettably I can’t give you a magic wand or provide the perfect formula for eliminating this problem in your writing. There’s no software (yet) that I know of that can catch this kind of snarl like your spell check can highlight misspellings (though of course you better reread anyway to catch things like ‘there’ and ‘their’, or ‘dessert’ and ‘desert’, etc.). Even if such a software is developed I’ve no doubt it won’t be any more perfect than your spell check.
On your own, bravely facing the storm, it is up to you, to ferret out snarls, to clarify your thoughts and to make sure they come across to the reader in a clear manner.
So readers have a laugh at the writer’s expense. This whole writer thing just might not be as easy as it first appears.
And writers, let’s try to give those readers less reason to put our books down. Engage, clarify and draw the readers in