When Peter Mel received word that the contest was on the previous night, he jumped on the last plane out of San Francisco on New Year's Eve to fly to Oahu.Hmmm. If Peter Mel received word that a contest was "on the previous night," why would he bother to go? Wouldn't the contest already be over?
A slight rewording helps explain what the author really meant to say:
When Peter Mel received word the previous night that the contest was on, he jumped on the last plane out of San Francisco on New Year's Eve to fly to Oahu.That sentence is still wordy and confusing, so I'd consider yet another rewrite:
When Peter Mel received word in San Francisco that the contest was on, he jumped on a plane to Oahu the very next day. It was the last plane out on New Year's Eve.The original sentence, as terrible as it is, somehow slipped by both the author and an editor.* In your book, however, your readers will never be forced to stumble through muddled writing. Here's how:
1) Break up your sentences, especially when articulating complex thoughts. Short sentences provide fewer hiding places for unclear writing.
2) Step away from your writing and come back with fresh eyes. Muddled writing tends to become invisible to a tired mind. Take a break, come back tomorrow, and you'll be stunned at how many more errors you catch and eradicate.
Don't cause your readers to question your intelligence or your credibility. Make sure every sentence says what you intend it to say.
* The offending passage comes from Eddie Would Go, the poorly written but still fascinating biography of Hawaii's famous surfing great Eddie Aikau.