On Choppy Writing: Avoiding the Stop-and-Go

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One of the most common mistakes I see in new writers is choppy writing—the kind that makes readers have to do some stop-and-go reading. This is when the reader comes across a break in prose or narrative that doesn’t flow into the next sentence or part of the story.

Most of the time, this is due to choppy writing, which is often due to incomplete or run-on sentences. Maybe the author is doing it on purpose to create a feeling or suspense; maybe they’re doing to because they need to work on their sentence structure. Either way, it creates breaks in the story for the reader and doesn’t allow them to become fully immersed in the story. Here are some examples:

Incomplete Sentences

A lot of the time, it seems new writers will use incomplete sentences in order to create suspense and drama. Like this:

Luke paused for a second. He thought. Why? Surely… No. It can’t… Luke looked at the sky. The big, grey sky. Ominous. A storm is coming.

It looks like an attempt at short, action-driven prose, but on the page, it stops the reader from being able to take it in in one fluid motion.

Run-On Sentences

Luke saw the dragon, “You won’t get me!” He drew his sword and charged the dragon, as he yelled a battle cry that his grandfather taught him when he was just a little boy in short pants, which were blue.

Run-ons are the most common grammatical mistakes I see students make. They’re also one of the easiest to fix. Generally, you can pick up a fistful of periods and throw them at this kind of writing. Meaning, replace commas with periods to form separate ideas and instances that are still grouped together in a paragraph.

Incorrect Semi-colons

This is by far the fanciest mistake. I call it that because the mistake is made when writers try to get fancy before fully understanding how to use a semi-colon. Like this:

The dragon lay dead on the floor; Luke stood up and held his sword to the sky. Lightning came down; running straight into the blade of Elsydeon.

Most semi-colons in prose like this can simply be replace with periods or commas. The best rule-of-thumb for using a semi-colon correctly is the clauses on either side of it have to be complete sentences, but related to each other enough that you just had to go and use a semi-colon.

The point is be careful; semi-colons can be a dangerous thing.

If you notice any of these in your own writing, odds are there might be a few more in your piece. Go through your own story and read it like a reader would. If you get caught up in the stop-and-go of your prose, so will your reader.

Happy hunting!

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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