• Morgan J Muir

Evolution of a Sentence

A very long time ago, right after my first son was born, I began writing the original draft of Amaranth Dawn. I was about 24 at the time, and so still remembered well what it was like to be a teen girl in her first brush with love. What I did not know well was how to write. :)

I had read a lot, and, looking back, I had good instincts and natural talent. But talent can only take a person so far before study, skill, and practice need to come in to play.

As I have been working on the final edits for this story - the first part of Amaranth Dawn having been pulled off and turned into a companion novel - I ran across a sentence that I just can't quite nail down to say what i want it to say, and thought it might be fun to see how it has evolved over time.


In this scene, it is the morning after Mariah first met Miguel, an English sailor who has decided to stay in Maracaibo for a time. Her father has hired him to be an assistant and is rooming him in their estate home. Mariah is well on her way to having a crush on him, and spent some of the previous evening daydreaming about him (as girls her age do).

Version 1 (original):

“Oh!” Mariah exclaimed, startled. She took his hand and went the rest of the way down the steps. “Disculpeme, I didn’t see you. Buenos dias Miguel. Have you eaten yet this morning?” She noticed that he seemed to be wearing the same clothes he’d had on to day before.

“Ah, a nice, healthy appetite. That’s something to be appreciated in a woman. No, Mariah, I have not yet eaten. Would you care to breakfast with me?” he asked as he led her toward the dining room.

“It would be my pleasure,” Mariah responded, rather automatically. Then she realized that instead of letting her hand go once she was down the stairs, Miguel had moved it to his elbow and her heart finally took flight.


Version 2-3: The first rewrite, done 3 years later after completing a rough draft of the entire trilogy did not change anything in this case.


Version 4-5: In this one I had begun sending out to beta readers and learning a little more about deliberate technique and showing vs telling. It still has some considerable weaknesses - framing and filler words mostly. This is the version included in the first publication in 2017

“Oh!” Mariah exclaimed, startled. She took his hand and went the rest of the way down the steps. “Disculpeme, I didn’t see you. Buenos dias, Miguel. Have you eaten yet this morning?” She noticed that he seemed to be wearing the same clothes he’d had on the day before. [This paragraph has more correct punctuation]

“Ah, a nice, healthy appetite. That’s something to be appreciated in a woman.” He gave her a smile that dazzled her as he looked into her eyes. Feeling her face begin to flush, she quickly looked down. “No, Mariah, I have not yet eaten. Would you care to breakfast with me?” [This paragraph splits Miguel's speech, giving him an action, and allowing Mariah to feel a reaction, expressing emotion without actually saying it. It has also moved the action - leading her to the dining room - into the next paragraph]

“It would be my pleasure,” Mariah responded, rather automatically as she allowed him to lead her to the dining room. Then she realized that instead of letting her hand go once she was down the stairs, Miguel had moved it to his elbow and her heart finally took flight. [I added some text to clarify actions within the scene, as well as a subtle hint of her attitude (allowed him to)]


Version 6: After publishing this book, I developed the writing bug in earnest and knew that this, writing, telling stories, was something I simply had to do. So I began taking classes, and learning to listen to the advice of my more-advanced peers, in earnest. And I learned a LOT.

“Oof!” Mariah’s thoughts were interrupted abruptly as she ran into something that shouldn’t have been in the middle of the doorway. [Changed "Oh!" to "Oof!" as it is more like the sound she'd make when she hits him. I also removed the dialogue tags "Mariah exclaimed." Exclaimed, in this case, is redundant, as the ! tells the reader she exclaimed. I also expanded the show-don't-tell concept by showing how she was startled in place of saying she was startled]

Buenos días, Señorita.” Miguel smiled as he steadied her. [Added in a comment from Miguel, again without a dialogue tag, and just a set of actions. The smile also indicates the warmth of his tone when he speaks, more effectively than "said" or "said warmly" would have]

Disculpeme, I didn’t see you.” Mariah’s heart raced as much from the shock of having run in to him as from the physical contact. Heat rose in her cheeks as she took the hand he offered, the skin of it had a roughness, but a sure and gentle strength. She held back a giggle at the fluttering in her stomach as she realized how accurate her guess the night before had been.Buenos días, Miguel. Have you eaten yet this morning?” [I broke up Mariah's dialogue here, in part to show a pause in the speech itself, as surely Mariah would have taken a moment to catch her breath before continuing on. I also further utilize the concept of showing the reader how she feels through her internal sensations and thoughts, rather than just blatantly stating it.]

“A healthy appetite is something to be appreciated in a woman.” He flashed a smile that dazzled her. Unwilling to get caught gazing into his gorgeous green eyes, she looked away, noting that he wore the same clothes from the night before. “No, Mariah,” he said, that smile still in his voice. “I have not yet eaten. Would you care to breakfast with me?” [Here I changed "gave" to a far more powerful decriptor - "flashed". I also expanded Mariah's emotions and thoughts from essentally 'blush and look away' to a reason she does so, again, showing rather than telling, her internal sensations, thoughts, and emotions. There is also an additional dialogue tag for Miguel to help put a more natural pause in his response, and better indicate his attitude to the entire situation]

“It would be my pleasure,” Mariah responded automatically as she allowed him to lead her to the table. Rather than letting her hand go as she’d expected, Miguel set it into the crook of his elbow and her heart took flight, finally breaking free of the mire that had held it down. [I removed the entirely unnecessary word "rather" before automatically. The painful framing of "then she realized" was also removed, which always strengthens and tightens things up. Earlier in this draft I had added increased focus on the journey of her emotions, and this part - her heart taking flight - was a key element, and so was added upon a little.]


Version 7: The only change here is in the final paragraph

“It would be my pleasure,” Mariah responded automatically as she allowed him to lead her to the dining room. Rather than letting her hand go as she’d expected, Miguel set it into the crook of his elbow and her heart took flight, finally breaking free of the mire that had held it down. The heat of his body surprised her, bleeding through his rough spun shirt and into her hand as they walked. She slipped her hand from his arm when they reached the table, ardently hoping he hadn’t felt her reaction. [I included some additional actions and emotions to better cycle through the senses and manages the scene - the heat of his body, rough spun shirt, slipping her hand away, etc]


Version 8: The only changes are in the following paragraph. I finally had someone check the Spanish, and corrected that bit of grammar, as well as some additional grammatical corrections.

Disculpe; I didn’t see you.” Mariah’s heart raced as much from the shock of having run into him as from the physical contact. Heat rose in her cheeks as she took the hand he offered. His skin had a roughness about it, but his hand contained a sure and gentle strength. She held back a giggle at the fluttering in her stomach as she realized how accurate her estimation of his hands had been the night before. “Buenos días, Miguel. Have you eaten yet this morning?”

The last issue with this has been this sentence, which I am working through currently: His skin had a roughness about it, but his hand contained a sure and gentle strength. It is meant to indicate his hand has strength, though the skin is rough, but as it is written, it implies the skin has a sure and gentle strength.The actions cannot be rearranged for 2 reasons, she must first take the hand before she can acknowledge how they feel and, as a general rule, the more important item should go last, be it the end of the sentence or the end of the paragraph. So I need to rewrite it without rearranging. Ideally, it will include sensations, descriptions of the roughness of his hand, instead of telling. But it is important to not get carried away with small things.

Original: ... she took the hand he offered, the skin of it had a roughness, but a sure and gentle strength.

2nd version: ... she took the hand he offered. His skin had a roughness about it, but his hand contained a sure and gentle strength

3rd:... she took the hand he offered. His rough skin/calloused fingers(?) [actioned] against her palm, though his grip held a sure and gentle strength.

After chewing on it for a long time, however, i went back to the simpler form: ... she took the hand he offered. His skin had a roughness about it, but his grip contained a sure and gentle strength.

And final settled on: Though his skin had a roughness about it, his grip contained a sure and gentle strength.


This book has taken me years to get to this point, but most of it has been about learning the craft of writing. I'm glad I had the chance to do it though, and I'm excited to re-release the series. Until then, happy reading!


ORIGINAL: “Oh!” Mariah exclaimed, startled. She took his hand and went the rest of the way down the steps. “Disculpeme, I didn’t see you. Buenos dias Miguel. Have you eaten yet this morning?” She noticed that he seemed to be wearing the same clothes he’d had on to day before.

“Ah, a nice, healthy appetite. That’s something to be appreciated in a woman. No, Mariah, I have not yet eaten. Would you care to breakfast with me?” he asked as he led her toward the dining room.

“It would be my pleasure,” Mariah responded, rather automatically. Then she realized that instead of letting her hand go once she was down the stairs, Miguel had moved it to his elbow and her heart finally took flight.


FINAL: “Oof!” Mariah’s thoughts were interrupted abruptly as she ran into something that shouldn’t have been in the middle of the stairs.

Buenos días, Señorita.” Miguel smiled as he steadied her.

Disculpe; I didn’t see you.” Mariah’s heart raced as much from the shock of having run into him as from the physical contact. Heat rose in her cheeks as she took the hand he offered. Though his skin had a roughness about it, his grip contained a sure and gentle strength. She held back a giggle at the fluttering in her stomach as she realized how accurate her estimation of his hands had been the night before. “Buenos días, Miguel. Have you eaten yet this morning?”

“A healthy appetite is something to be appreciated in a woman.” He flashed a smile that dazzled her. Unwilling to get caught gazing into his gorgeous green eyes, she looked away, noting that he wore the clothes from the night before. “No, Mariah,” he said, that smile still in his voice. “I have not yet eaten. Would you care to breakfast with me?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Mariah responded automatically. Rather than letting her hand go as she’d expected, Miguel set it into the crook of his elbow, and her heart took flight, finally breaking free of the mire that had held it down. The heat of his body surprised her, bleeding through his rough-spun shirt and into her hand as he led her to the dining room. She slipped her hand from his arm when they reached the table, ardently hoping he hadn’t felt her reaction.


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