But I do know a few 'rules of the road' when it comes to crafting a sentence, a paragraph, a whole story. I was an editor for a number of years and still do it regularly for other writers, in addition to gutting my own work and striving to make it better.
A few minutes of your time is all I'll take to discuss a few small writing tweaks that will, in my humble opinion, make your sentences smoother, more meaningful and waaaaay more powerful when a stranger sits down to read them.
When editing, I try to pick up on the phrases that, at least on the surface, mean something, but underneath, either have a flaw or don't really mean what they're intended to mean. Here are a few examples and my thoughts on them. These are not exact phrases I've found while editing manuscripts from other writers, but they resemble some that I've seen and are used here to illustrate a few of my ideas.
Word choice leads to ambiguity
"Her heart was beating like a hammer."
Uhm. A hammer doesn't beat. It pounds. But it doesn't really beat. Also, what's with the passive verb choice? "Was beating?" I would offer this revision for the above sentence, making it clearer, more correct, and more forceful:
"Her heart pounded like a hammer."
It still borders on cliche, though, so I might suggest finding a different way to say the same thing. Although, in a bestseller on the rack at B&N, this sentence might be the perfect fit. It would come down to knowing your audience. If your audience is a "heart-pounded-like-a-hammer" kind of group, then you might be done and shouldn't mess with it further.
Using bad metaphors when similes would do
"Her hair was oleander blossoms."
Do you mean that her hair smelled like oleander blossoms? Or do you mean it looked like oleander blossoms/ If you mean look, then that's probably a botched trip to the hairdresser. Do I really want to be sorting these things out as I'm reading? It will probably slow down my enjoyment of a passage if I have to think too hard about what is being said and the intended meaning.
Saying things that are wrong, even though they read 'cool'
Now, I've been accused of ratcheting up the metaphors a few times myself. It's the kind of writing I do, and for the most part, my audience enjoys the word portraits I paint. But there are limits and they will slow a reader down more than just conveying action, plot or character. Metaphors are mood or motif but they are still additive. Unless they are used badly.
Metaphors need to make sense. You can't really say that a "man's skin was leather". That sounds neat, and on the surface, is a striking image. But, unless you are trying something new age or poetic, it's simply not literal. A man's skin is skin. It's not anything else. If it was leather, that would mean he is dead.
Now if he's dead, well, that's a new and interesting angle on the story, but I digress. Maybe you'll see my take on that one in a future tale. Simply put, if he's up and moving around in most fiction, it's really hard to believe that his skin is also leather since leather is, by definition, flesh that is removed, hairless and tanned. Tough to do with a living, breathing character unless we're reading the novelization of "Saw 842".
That last passage has a bit of heft to it, and can be used to draw in character details and the history of a family moment, but don't go overboard. If you want to keep the pace up, maybe it's just better to say, "His skin was leathery," and keep the action going.
Rounding up: Say what you mean to say, but don't confuse
I suppose my bottom line is, when you're writing an idea, it often sounds perfect in your head, or it sounds like how one might say it out loud. When you say it out loud to someone, they're right with you and can glean your meaning from you as a person, your mannerisms and more. But on the page, they might not have those things to go on. You want as few stumbling blocks between the words and their true meaning as possible.