She stayed, but her reply was reluctant.
What I meant was that -she stayed-. She was reluctant, but still she stayed. I know it's a little odd, but for xome reason, I felt the above made it sound like the reluctant reply was the most important thing, but in my head, what was important was that while she didn't really want to, she stayed.
Minor point, but it just felt wrong, and I realized it was because "but" makes these both independent clauses (each could be a sentence in its own right), and thus of equal syntactic "weight." One is not more important than another; neither is the primary thought.
But in my head, the important thing was... she stayed. And so I kind of let myself feel how that should be worded-- let instinct and sound-sense take over, and changed it to this:
She stayed, though her reply was reluctant.
So much of this, lol, is instinctual. And when I stopped and analyzed why, I realized that "but" and "though" mean the same thing (presenting a contrast of some sort to the first clause), but "but" makes the second an independent (equal) clause, while "though" reduces it to a dependent (lesser) clause. And that means the second is of lesser syntactic weight, so the reader will subconsciously understand it to be of lesser importance, and the "she stayed" is the important thing.
Now the question becomes, why do I put the main action/clause first in the sentence? When would I put the "though" first?"
Though her reply was reluctant, she stayed.
Hmm. Usually I think when "though" comes first, I say "although." (I don't know why. Sounds better.)
I think probably I'd put the dependent clause first when it sounded better (like if the rhythm was better when mixed with the adjacent sentences). That is, I don't feel a great deal of difference in the change in sentence order, nothing like the change from "but" to "though."
I know, I know. Picky. But nuance matters in sentences. Readers can pick up consciously or subconsciously such subtle changes in meaning. How important is this to you as a writer? Is that sort of pinpoint meaning accuracy something you spend time on? And have you any examples of that sort of subtle shift in meaning I can borrow for a workshop I'm doing on sentences? :)