Sentences in service

Sometimes we try too hard to make a clever idea work. We have an effect in mind—a surprise or a joke or just a punchy, dramatic line—but the buildup is implausible. It doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Or even light scrutiny.


He woke to the sound of someone moving quietly around the room. Oh yes, the girl from last night. He rolled over in the sheets to watch as she got dressed.

“Wait,” he said as she headed for the door. “You never did tell me…”

She paused, her eyes lighting up. She tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and gave him a sweet smile. “My name? It’s Arabella. I thought you’d never ask.”

“No,” he said, “what time is it?”

Here’s another:

Lakewood is so charming, so well situated on popular routes, you’d think we’d have an inn, some charming spot for weary travelers to rest, nestled among the cottages of those who’ve made this lovely place their home.

But you’d be wrong.

The moment night fell, the monsters would eat you. That’s why we don’t have an inn.

Um…are we to believe that said monsters only attack buildings where people pay by the night, but not those where they rent long-term or own the land? Come on, people.

Avoid writing sentences that are obviously in service to a clever idea. Make sure your clever ideas spring organically from the more critical aspects of the writing—the actual story, themes, and characters—and never sacrifice meaning or plausibility for the sake of a joke.

Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings!

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