Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, July 7, 2013

EDITING - Dangling Participles

BIG SURPRISE last week. I was notified by the International Digital Awards that The Captive Heiress won first place in Young Adult for 2012. And Shadowed Paradise, one of my Golden Beach books, took second place in Suspense. 

WELCOME to Mosaic Moment's New Look. A friend of a friend took a photo of an egret (or maybe that's a heron) out of her hotel window here in Florida, and it was so lovely I asked permission to use it in my blog. My web mistress kindly turned it into a banner, and today is its debut.


I have been writing and editing for more years than I care to remember, and only recently has a bugaboo out of my school days reared its ugly head when I was reading, judging contests, or editing professionally. And, yes, it's the dreaded Dangling Participle. Why now, after a hiatus of so many years? Yes, it's likely English teaching isn't what it used to be, but I think it's more likely English is becoming the victim of "short speak." We don't interact with each other with written letters, not even as much with long phone calls any more. We e-mail, we text, and we tweet. And since so many have not been taught how to type properly, texters couldn't use ten-finger type even if they wanted to, and tweeters are confined to so few characters, English gets short shrift. Plus the fact that most of us seem to be inherently lazy, settling for the least number of characters to communicate what we want to say.

If you're an author, or aspiring author, this can be a problem, with your social messaging tending to contaminate the more classic style needed to express yourself in a book. Even if you're writing bright and breezy teen stories, the basic rules of grammar still apply (except in dialogue). So "short speak" might be one reason why Dangling Participles are once again rearing their ugly (and often embarrassingly funny) heads. 

The horrid truth is - Dangling Participles make readers laugh at you. So you really, really don't want to do it. Let's take a look at some examples, so you will never again be guilty of constructing a sentence in this fashion.

Since my English teachers were extremely diligent, and the very thought of constructing a sentence with a dangling particple gives me not only the shivers but a mental blank, I have borrowed from Manuscripts I Have Known. I have "doctored" these examples until I hope even their own mother/father won't recognize them. But I hope those who are guilty of this shocking authorial solecism will recognize themselves and self-edit all Dangling Particples out of existence before submitting their work to an editor, agent, writing contest, or—Heaven forbid—readers! Believe me, you don't want readers laughing at what you said, compared to what you meant to say.

Dangling Particple - general rule (as expressed by Grace):

The opening descriptive clause of a sentence should match the subject of the sentence. (Almost inevitably, the subject is the first noun after the comma.)

Examples - and possible fixes:

A math professor at MIT, she was certain he could get her admitted.
[Meaning as is: "she" was a math professor at MIT]
Revision with author's intended meaning:
Her boyfriend was a math professor at MIT, so she was certain he could get her admitted.

Still dressed in her chambray shirt dress, the top buttons were undone.

[Meaning: the top buttons were still dressed in her chambray shirt]

The top buttons of Meg's chambray shirt dress were undone. 

Tracing the piping on the edge of her suit, Beth’s breathing grew shallow.

[Meaning: Beth's breathing traced the piping on the edge of her suit.]

As Beth traced the piping on the edge of her suit, her breathing grew shallow.

Lined with parked cars and wandering pedestrians, navigating downtown was tough.

[Meaning: navigating was lined with parked cars & pedestrians]

Since the street was lined with parked cars and wandering pedestrians, navigating downtown was tough.

Arriving at the gloomy mansion, her mood plunged to terrified.

[Her mood arrived at the mansion - without our heroine perhaps?]

When she arrived at the gloomy mansion, her mood plunged to terrified.

Idling in the midst of the crowd, her stomach growled.

[Somehow I doubt her stomach was idling among the crowd.]

Idling in the midst of the crowd, Marge was horrified when her stomach growled. 

Or, more colorfully,
While Marge idled in the midst of the crowd, her stomach protested with an audible growl.

Scanning the room, the tall windows, the pile of gifts on the table, the place was empty.

[No way did the place scan the room.]

After scanning the room, the tall windows, the pile of gifts on the table, Fred found the room empty of people.

Glancing at Tom and his friend, a sliver of annoyance reared its ugly head.

[Slivers of annoyance do not glance.]

As Hilary glanced at Tom and his friend, she felt a sliver of annoyance rear its ugly head.

~ * ~


Thanks for stopping by. 


The EDITING series will continue with some other common writing errors. 
Also coming soon: Cape Cod 2013 & and a Blog Index Update.

1 comment:

  1. Linda, for some reason I got your comment on e-mail, but it's not showing up on MM. I suspect the reason I hadn't seen any DP in umpteen years is that for about 18 years I read mostly NY-published print books and judged only RWA contests. (And though the entrants made a lot of beginner errors, there wasn't a single DP in the 400+ entries I judged.) BUT when indie pub came along and I started my own editing service . . . things changed. The past two years I've been seeing DPs galore. I guess those little suckers were still out there - just not where I was until c. 2011. And thanks for the kind words about the IDA awards.