How to improve sentence structure?

Many people say that my writing at times is wordy or just confusing.

I tried to read, but it doesn’t seem like I picked anything up from doing it.

Here’s an example

Example

While standing, wondering whether I dreamt of a noise, there’s…a sound. It seems like what I heard. What woke me from sleep is muffled. Though it’s clear enough to tell it’s two people talking…no…yelling.

Are there any tips?

Write some more and I would choose pithier readings. There is also a book called “Spunk and bite” by Arthur Plotnik which is supposed to help edit your book.

Get to the point faster. Repetition. I avoid words like “sound” (as meaning a physical manifestation of sound waves) and noise. Also, generally new writers tend to try to sound “more literary” but in doing so sound less so. Also, detail, not description. Voice and character, not fanciness.

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Consider what each sentence is adding. Sometimes all it adds is tone or voice, which is fine. But if there’s nothing of worth from it, and the story wouldn’t be ruined with its deletion, then you can get rid of it. Words follow a similar rule. That’s the reason behind the “no adverbs” advice; most of the time, they don’t add anything to the sentence. But they can, so there’s no absolute rule to it.

Honestly, this is something I don’t worry about on a first draft. Depending on how I’m drafting it, it may not even be a focus of the second draft. So while you can take comments on sentence structure into consideration as you go (perhaps looking for commonalities among the ones people point out) it’s not necessarily something that has to be cleaned up right at the start. It’s a lower level concern and you’ll have time later to adjust it.

But if you still want to keep an eye out for it while you’re writing, think about what’s necessary to the overall picture. Words, sentences, paragraphs–they all work together in this way. If you have too many words, the scene slows down. Less, and it speeds up. So that’s something to consider as well.

You could think about it as if you have a word count you’re not allowed to go past. If you have, then you’d have to fix what you’ve written to use less words. I’ve found my better writing tends to be school assignments that have a word maximum because it forces me to condense where I can. Obviously this is an arbitrary number, but it’s an exercise you can play around with to practice looking at your writing with that kind of attention.

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I have a method I sometimes use when I’m having trouble with a sentence. I write what I mean to say first very plainly, then I change some words with synonyms that add the tone and connotation I want the sentence to have, then I add style.

Here’s the basic idea of what you’re trying to convey.

I thought I heard a sound (dreamt of a noise). It is muffled, but loud enough to know it’s two people yelling.

In your case, the first bit is useless unless the previous paragraph sets up standing in the person’s dream as something significant. I kind of doubt it as standing is never really significant in a story.

Instead, the ideas can be like this:

I dreamt of a voice. But what woke me from my slumber was no muffled voice. Instead, it was two people screaming.

Notice the meaning is kept clear but the words have synonymous words in place of the literal words. This alone would be fine, but if you wanted it to flow a certain way, then you add some style.

I am ripped from my dream. What I imagine is a conversation melted into two people screaming as I open my eyes.

Personally, I would’ve stopped at the second stage for this sentence as it’s probably not the more important point, but for the sake of the example, I wrote it with some style that adds a certain flow while still maintaining the core message that this person was woken by two people yelling.

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My guess (and please ignore me if I’m incorrect) is that English is not your first language. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but it might make your English syntax sound unorthodox. Even the phrase “I tried to read…from doing it” puzzles me a little. What did you try to read exactly?

Reading your example, I do have to admit I’m confused. The first sentence (“While standing…a sound”) is comprehensible, but very wordy. The second sentence (“It seems…I heard”) makes no sense to me. Do you mean that this sound seems like the noise you dreamed about? More clarification is needed. The last sentence (“Though it’s clear…yelling”) is actually not a sentence at all, but a dependent clause hanging awkwardly; it would be a proper sentence if you removed the “Though” at the beginning. Alternatively, you could replace the period after “muffled” with a comma and attach it to the previous sentence.

If I were to clean this up a bit, I’d probably write something along the lines of:
A muffled sound startles me awake. I stand, unsure if I’m still dreaming. I hear a pair of voices talking—no, shouting—but I can’t make out what they’re saying.
It’s not a perfect revision, but I worked with the context available. My main goal was to keep the language simple and direct.

I hope this was helpful! If I’m off-base in any way, I apologize for being dumb!

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Yep, I’m English is my first language. I can’t believe that despite my efforts, people in RL and on WP think otherwise.

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Ugh I apologize for my rudeness. I truly meant no offense. Some of the greatest writers out there are bilingual/ESL (like one of my idols, Jorge Luis Borges) so I only have the utmost respect for those who speak/write in other languages.

I didn’t mean to discourage you in any way. We are all guilty of awkward phrasing in our writing—I know I definitely am. It’s really hard to translate thoughts and ideas into written language. It’s hard to know how others will interpret what we write. And some of the onus is on the reader, too; just because they can’t understand doesn’t mean the writer is always at fault.

A thousand apologies again. I hope you continue with your writing and remember that all criticism is just opinion.

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It’s all good dude, no worries.

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Phew haha thanks. Last thing I wanna do is piss off another writer!

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I get that. Do you write what comes to mind and go back over it? It’s taken me a while but I’ve got to where what I write is less confusing, so keep that head up cause you’re going to improve.

I have a few:

While standing, wondering whether I dreamt of a noise, there’s… a sound.

The sentence (to me) would read better if you left the three dots out. It already adds to the feeling that something is happening around the mc.

It seems like what I heard. What woke me from sleep is muffled.

I would say to combine these two or to describe it different.

To combine I would suggest something like:

It seemed like what had woke me up but muffled.

That’s one way to look at it. Or to do my other suggestion:

It seems like what I heard, what woke me from my sleep but muffled.

Okay, so I kinda combined them XD I tried to do the other way but because I want to keep the “yelling” for the ending I couldn’t think of another way to describe it.

Though it’s clear enough to tell its two people talking…no…yelling.

I’m just that person who isn’t a big fan of the three dots (can’t think of what its called) so once again I’m going to suggest leaving those out. Instead try something like:

Though it’s clear enough to tell its two people talk. No, yelling.

or, if you want to add more details:

It was clear enough to tell it is two people talking. No, their words were louder than that. They were yelling.

You can add or take away words from any given thing.

So let’s see what I get combing these:

While standing, wondering whether I dreamt of a noise, there’s a sound. It seemed like what had woke me up but muffled.Though it’s clear enough to tell its two people talking. No, yelling.

Or

While standing, wondering whether I dreamt of a noise, there’s a sound. It seems like what I heard, what woke me from my sleep but muffled. It was clear enough to tell it is two people talking. No, their words were louder than that. They were yelling.

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I looked over that a thousand times, and it always felt fine to me.

They are called ellipses

Thank you for the advice!

I mean in general and not just that. I’ve always been told to look over what I write, and honestly when I do, I still can’t see what people try to point out. I can read one sentence a thousand times and it would look the same to me. That’s why I like it when someone points out what I do, and explains it in how it can be better or what improvement it might need.

Oh, gosh I couldn’t think of that so thank you! :joy:

Of course. I don’t know if it helped anymore then everyone elses but different views are always a good thing. Most of the time.

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(I’m just gonna make some background)
I stood next to the wall of the cafeteria, wondering if the muffled voice I heard was real. I heard it again, and this time, I could tell that there were two different voices talking- no, yelling.

Getting to the point is more important than trying to sound important, so while you don’t want quick skips over scenes, you should try to cut down each paragraph as much as possible in the second draft, while still keeping or improving upon the same quality.

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I do, I’m just having trouble with writing stuff like this.

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The problem you have is common – while trying to find your voice, you end up confusing your reader. Further to the point, your example is written in a passive voice. And besides being boring, passive writing is inevitably wordy.

A good way to be able to tell if something you’ve written is passive is to think like this – can the scene be acted out without having to move a muscle? If it can, then the scene is passive.

There’s nothing wrong with a passive scene every now and then, but you must get through them quickly. Your readers want to get to where the action is!

So let’s shorten up this passive scene, so we can get to the action:

Now standing, I wondered whether I had dreamt up the noise. Then I heard it again – the sound of two people talking. No… they were yelling at each other.

When fewer words are used on a passive scene, more become available for when the action starts! :slight_smile:

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Thank you so much!

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You’re welcome! It’s from lessons I’ve learned on Wattpad! :heart:

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It seems like you’re trying to go for a style that is a bit more stream of consciousness, which can understandably cause confusion. Sometimes you have to remember that when you’re writing, ultimately you want to be understood, and because the reader isn’t in your head, which might seem obvious to you isn’t going to be obvious to others. If you keep that in mind and give details about the scene, and as others have said, use more active language, then your writing instantly becomes more comprehensible. But also if stream of consciousness is your thing, there are ways you can do it without completely losing the reader along the way. As others have pointed out, getting to the point is integral (or even including details as you arrive at the point, but just enough not to bore the reader or slow things down too much). Being verbose only makes sense when the words add to the story, because too much makes things clunky. Be deliberate with your word choice, because it adds to the overall feel and understanding of your work.

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Honestly, this is better than a lot of what I come across on Wattpad. :slight_smile: Although I do think it could use some tightening and refinement. What that tightening and refinement looks like really is going to depend on your style and voice. More than anything, it seems dry to me, rather than wordy or confusing.

What you wrote in the passage accurately conveys a clear thought. And since it is in the first person, if this is how that character processes things, then that’s that. However, it may not work for some (or most) readers. It could also be genre specific.

I write fantasy, and often get comments from people who don’t read fantasy that sometimes my writing can seem verbose. But that’s more of a genre specific style than it actually being wrong.

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Depends on the kind of fantasy, and BTW, epic fantasy makes excuses of this, but it’s wrong. Your style isn’t limited by genre. Style is separate from genre, which is why books with styles against the genre stand out. If done well, agents love it as much as the public.

I’d cut equally for fantasy that did this. Label it up purple, and tell them to try again.

This type of writing for literary, which is borderline stream of consciousness, can also be tightened up quite a bit and much faster with fewer words. Instead of words, you would cheat it through punctuation and sentence length, which is a basic no-no for a lot of other writing, but a yes for literary style.

Literary style writing would order the events play with sentence length and punctuation also introduce things like rhythm, alliteration, etc

So the passage would go more like…

Which is why it’s always worth it to read inside and outside your genre and don’t use your genre as an excuse for poor style.

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