Awkward word order: examples

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 Awkward Word Order:

In the following cases, the writer might want to consider changing the word order. 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?

“He took a wild swing with his right foot, sending the waste paper basket hurtling through the air, which came to rest with a clatter against the far wall.”
–> Better: …and the waste paper basket hurtled through the air, coming… (the way you have it now “which” refers back to “air” – and the verb usage is weak as well (watch out for those -ing verbs!).

“I’d always accepted living my life the way it presented itself to me without many complaints.”
–> Did life present itself without many complaints or did you accept life without many complaints? I suggest you rewrite: “I’d always accepted, without many complaints, living my life the way it presented itself to me.”

“As the guests arrived Kyra welcomed them one by one waiting for Sarah with excitement.
–> This is awkwardly worded. Possibly: “As the guests arrived, Kyra welcomed them by one, as she excitedly waited for Sarah.”

“All thirty of us who had arrived, by the grace of God, boarded a sailboat.”
–> This is kind of awkward. It’s hard to tell if the arrival was by the grace of God, or if boarding the sailboat was by the grace of God.

“The prisoner was occupying the chair in the courtroom in the small wooden dock.”

–> I’d suggest moving from smallest to largest: “The prisoner was occupying the chair in the small wooden dock in the court room.”

“He laughed again as he threw the over-sized spoon into the metal sink, which clattered as it bounced around.”
–> This sounds like the sink is clattering and bouncing around.

“Following various tests, he was informed his liver was failing and needed to attend a rehabilitation centre for alcohol abuse.”
–> Who needs to attend the rehab centre: the man or his liver?

“At the age of seven, Jared recalled a painful beating because he’d stayed out too late.” [Jared, at this point in the story, is in his twenties].
–> Perhaps rewrite: Jared recalled a painful beating he’d received at the age of seven because he’d stayed out too late.

“Aaron was aware his father continued eating, without looking up.”
–> I think you mean, “Matt was aware, without looking up, that his father had continued eating.” (The way it is written, the father is not looking up).

“In return for the cheeky remark, she gave him a slap across the back of the head, kicked him in the backside, and kept on kicking until he was out of her store, with her breasts heaving to and fro and shouting at him as he fell into the street.”
–> Two points: This sentence needs to be divided into at least two sentences. And, while it is pretty amusing, I don’t think you intended to have her breasts shouting at him. Perhaps: “In return for the cheeky remark, she gave him a slap across the back of the head and kicked him in the backside. She kept on kicking until he was out of the store and fell on the street; all the time she was shouting and her breasts were heaving to and fro.”

“Local wood carvings adorned the high walls, and there were black and white photographs of the old building as it stood in the nineteen twenties, hanging here and there.”
–> What’s hanging here and there–the old building or the photographs (or maybe even the carvings)?

“A hot pail of water…”

–> “A pail of hot water” – the water, I presume, is hot, not the pail?

“Tedious and boring, I sat beside my elderly tutor for the Latin lessons.”
–> Who is tedious and boring, you or the tutor? Or maybe the lessons?

“A ladder was propped up, lending access to our tarred roof-top clotheslines .
–> Which is tarred, the roof-top or the clotheslines?

“Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sour face on the long haired girl turning away.”
–> Is it the sour face or the long-haired girl turning away?

“They can also ask for clearer instructions on how to do something from their instructor.”
–> Or: “They can also ask their instructor for clearer instructions on how to do something.”

“His chances of survival were slim, despite the ministrations of that ephemeral nurse.”
–> The nurse herself wasn’t ephemeral—in fact, according to the previous description, she was rather sturdy! However, her ministrations were ephemeral (fleeting, short-lived, momentary), so I suggest: “Despite the ephemeral ministrations of the nurse, his chances of survival were slim.”

“He squeezed his eyes as consciousness returned, blinking away the sweat that ran down his face.”
–> This sounds like the consciousness is doing the blinking! Rewrite: “As consciousness returned, he squeezed his eyes, blinking away the sweat that ran down his face.”

“He knew that it had been doctored at the first sip”
–> “He knew, at the first sip, that it had been doctored.” (The way it is currently written, it means the doctoring was done at the very time he took the first sip).

Your turn!

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 make careful use of a dictionary and/or thesaurus? What did you learn about awkward word order, from these examples?

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