When I first come back to a draft to make the necessary changes, I often turn a fair number of my sentences inside out, or by chopping them up, rearrange the clauses. It’s a useful exercise to see how a sentence sounds when it’s re-organised.
It may not be a bad sentence, there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but moving the clauses about will change the emphasis of what’s being said, and it’s always worth while trying out the different possibilities. This may also mean removing or adding words – something I do as I’m trying the various arrangements.
One ‘rule’ I’ve discovered is that in most cases if there’s a clause which gives the ‘when’ of the action, it’s best to put that first. So when I’m editing, unless there’s a specific reason not to, I make sure ‘Time comes first’.
Here are a few examples of sentences as I first wrote them, and a possible reorganisation of them:
1/ ‘I had visited the Great Chamber once before in the days before the insurrection, in the days of peace, but had never expected to be permitted near it when the Senate was in session.’
‘Once, in the days of peace, long before the insurrection, I had visited the Great Chamber, but I’d never expected to be permitted near it when the Senate was in session.’
2/ ‘Could I make anything of this opportunity, I wondered as I hurried to the stores, collected a dress uniform and took it to my dormitory.’
‘As I hurried to the stores to collect a dress uniform and take it to my dormitory, I wondered if I could make anything of this opportunity.’
3/ The everlasting hills we once named them
Ignorant of their immeasurable agonies.
Ignorant of their immeasurable agonies
We spoke of them as everlasting hills.
4/ ‘Young Tom always took the opportunity in his rare moments of freedom to sneak up onto the battlements and settle into his favourite corner from which he could gaze out over the countryside below.’
‘In his rare moments of freedom, young Tom inevitably slipped up onto the battlements and settled into his favourite corner from which he could gaze out over the countryside below.’
5/ ‘He wept in silence when he was alone, or after his mother had fallen into the sleep of the exhausted.’
‘At the end of a long, hard day, when he was alone, or after his mother had fallen into the sleep of the exhausted, he might cry. . . . but even then he wept in silence.’
6/ ‘From this eyrie all his lands were under his eye, and like hungry vultures, his troops could swoop down on passing merchants or unknown knights, and demand from the, the tolls required for the privilege of passing through his domain.’
‘From this eyrie all his lands were under his eye, and from it his troops, like hungry vultures, could swoop on passing merchants or unknown knights. There was a toll to be paid for the privilege of passing through his domains.
Nothing I write is perfect first time – it’s rare that it’s just as I want it the second time – but that’s how writing works. It would be foolish to berate myself for writing clumsy sentences when the inspiration’s flowing and I’m working at speed.
The trick is to accept the process and enjoy the chance to improve and correct it. If I can do that my pleasure lasts longer, and my skills are honed in the editing.