I’m not going to try to explain “grammar stuff” in the usual way, I hope; because it seems to me it is either one of those things you “get” or one of those things that makes you want to pull out your hair and run screaming into the streets. I was of the latter, until one day for some reason I can’t fathom, things began to make sense, and I think the reason they began to make sense is because I related them to my writing in a tangible way by imagining my scenes (or some other relatable way). What I’m going to try to do is to explain things in a way that maybe you will better understand . . . I hope. And today is Dangling Participles.
We know what Dangling means; that’s easy. But what in tarnation is a Participle? A Participle is a verbal that . . . hold up Kat, – a what?, a verbal? *eyes glazing over* Okay, let’s do it this way. A participle usually ends in ED or ING. Present Participles end in ED, and Past Participles in ING and uh, well, etceterea. . . if your eyes are glazing again, just remember words ending in ED and ING – who cares what they are called, right? We just want to get our scenes down smart and tight. I want to talk about the ING words today.
When I finish a first draft of my novel, I do a “find” or “search” for words ending in ING . . . why? because they can be sneaky! First, many times I find that instead of using ING, I really should be using ED. And second, because I want to catch any sneaky Dangling Participles. The more I practice my craft and understand my “scenes” the fewer times I make these mistakes (but I still make mistakes, which is why editing is so very important to our work-we must learn to read critically, and even then, it’s hard to catch them all -perfection is a bitchly bitch!).
I could explain things in a “Grammarish” kind of way about modifiers and nouns and who or what is carrying out the action and blah blah blah, but I want to get you to see the results and not necessarily the grammar whys. In the case of the Dangling Participle, I am not so much worried about you remembering the Term, but instead remembering that ING word to look out for – by imagining the scene you are writing.
Here is an example:
Drinking her coffee, Linda told Barry to stop drumming his fingers on the table.
Now, imagine that scene above. Linda is drinking her coffee, so how can she talk to Barry? Sure, we all know what the sentence means; but, if you picture that scene as written, it does not work very well. Linda can’t talk and drink her coffee at the same time. Something isn’t jiving here. Two things going on: Linda is drinking her coffee. Linds is telling Barry to stop drumming his fingers. It’s not that you have to make two sentences out of this, but it calls for some restructure to make the two actions two actions and not one….you see?
Putting on his pants, Tim rushed to eat his breakfast.
So, yes, maybe this is not so bad, right? Maybe Tim is putting on his pants in a hurry so he could hurry up and eat his breakfast. It is still an awkward “scene.” He puts on his pants, and then he rushes to eat his breakfast – there are two things going on here, not just one. Again, no one is going to flaggelate you for this, or call you a hack writer. But, still, if you can write cleaner sentences, why not?
Running to her car, Debbie started it and drove away.
I’m still imagining her running to the car – now I have to adjust my thinking because suddenly she’s in the car and driving away. This sentence and scene is awkward.
Not to confuse you, but sometimes those ING words could work as beginning phrases:
Standing in the doorway, Glynis was almost knocked over by a large angry man.
Do you see the difference? Gylnis is standing in the doorway and some big guy almost knocks her down – it’s one action by Glynis. However, I still don’t like this sentence – it’s still not so hot, but better.
I’m being simplistic here, and my examples aren’t meant to be perfect, but instead I’m hoping you can picture the scene and in picturing the scene understand what I am attempting to tell you.
Typing her examples, Kathryn hoped everyone would understand. – That’ll do. I’m typing my examples while hoping you all understand. Not the most perfect sentence, but still . . . I can type my examples, and I can hope you all will understand.
Typing her examples, Kathryn ate her biscuit. – no, I’m typing so it would be hard to eat my biscuit! Two actions going on.
There is also:
Flying to the flower, the woman watched the bird.
So, who is flying? The woman or the bird?
There are grammatical explanations you can find by googling “dangling participles” and “participles;” those explanations and examples will give you clear instruction. But if you can relate the “lessons” to your own writing and your own scene setting, well, do you see what I’m getting at? Unless you can relate something to your own experience, it’s difficult to understand.
Please, Grammatarianians, don’t bust my chops here – I’m not trying to give a “Grammar Lesson” so much as hoping writers will imagine their scenes and see how sentence structure can be tricky. My examples aren’t meant to be perfect little explanations of what a Dangling Participle is, but instead get you to thinking about your scenes in another way, and in the process, maybe have an understanding of sentence structure and how it can make your work weaker or stronger.
Now . . . who all is more confused than ever *laughing!* and who is maybe saying, “Wait, I see! I’ve been doing this . . .”