The primary issues: Indirect Structure, Weak Verbs, Show vs. Tell
I've listed below an actual paragraph from a novel one of my clients is writing. I've changed the names of the characters to protect further the confidence of my client and his/her piece. I've placed the problem text in bold red font.
In the mid-morning, he groaned and awoke. All-around a fog hung. Slowly it dissolved as he blinked sleep from his red swollen eyes. In every bone and muscle, he hurt, his jaw ached, his head throbbed and across his cheek, he felt the sting of torn skin. He clenched his teeth and made a painful fist of swollen fingers. His nails, smashed and blackened reminded him of falling rock. It would have been easy to remain beside the fire, resting, but he had a goal, and he had a somber thought.
He awoke at mid-morning, and groaned. A blanket of fog dissolved to a gray wisp as he blinked sleep from his red, swollen eyes. Every muscle burned, his jaw ached, his head throbbed, and torn skin stung his cheek. He clenched his teeth and made a painful fist of swollen fingers, nails blackened and smashed like falling rock. Oh, to remain beside the fire, resting, but his goal awaited him. This forced a somber thought.
ISSUE #1: LET THE HORSE LEAD THE CART (USUALLY)
I'll say it again. Please make these your watchwords: KEEP IT STRONG AND DIRECT.
ISSUE #2: POOR STRUCTURE, WEAK ADVERB, IMPROPER PUNCTUATION
I think my alternative lays out the issues well, but one special point: slowly. Yuck! In a long line of horrible, lazy adverbs, this is one of the worst.
ISSUE #3: LET THE HORSE LEAD THE CART (USUALLY), SHOW VERSUS TELL
Once again, the author has placed the cart before the horse. You may do this, of course—it is allowed. However, do it only to mix the rhythm of the prose on rare occasions, or to provide special emphasis to a specific (usually closing) segment of the sentence. Most of the time, you'll want to let the horse do the pulling. SECOND ISSUE: he felt. This is classic TELLING. Just SHOW us.
ISSUE #4: MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT, SHOW VERSUS TELL
These are the two highest commandments of effective writing. The author violates both in this segment.
ISSUE #5: WEAK VERBS
Nothing will leave a reader flatter, thinking blah-blah-blah, more than weak, inactive, verbs. CULPRIT: had. It's best to reserve "had" for Past Perfect Tense, and resist the temptation to use it as a primary verb in most instances. It's just plain dull. Stretch yourself. Earn your readers.
'Til next time, and as always, remember:
To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.