Monday Classroom: DANGling Participles . . .

What in tarnation is a Participle? A Participle is a verbal that . . . hold up Kat, – a what?, a verbal? *eyes glaze over* Okay, let’s see; maybe I can ‘splain it this way: a participle is a verb that puts on an adjectives coat. *Huhn? That didn’t make a lot-o sensicles. Let’s see; a participle usually ends in ED or ING—unless it is a gerund ending in ing—Lawd! Stop!, you may be saying. Yeah, me too, y’all. It’s a jumble of ARGH UNGH, isn’t it?

Sentence structure and grammar can drive us IN-Sane. There are many things I Get and there are many grammar concepts that have me gnash my teeth to nubs as I try to explain them to you—hard to explain things that give me a big-arse head-cramp. I can understand the basic concept without quite capturing the entire Stuff of it all. So what’s a writer to do? Welp, my good friends, we do the best we can. Use as much knowledge as we can to fill our wittle brainicles and then use our good instincts for the rest. Torturing yourselves over a perfect manuscript where you obsess over every sentence, every page, every danged scene, may send you into the “World of Never-Finishers” and that’s a sucky world to live in, isn’t it? I want to be in the “Finishers” world, don’t you? But I want to be there with something I am Proud Of. And so should you. There are happy mediums instead of extremes, right? riiighhht!

So, if your eyes glaze-over at the word Participle, just remember words ending in ED and ING – who cares what they are called, right? Riigghht. We just want to get our scenes down smart and tight. Right? Riiighhht again.

Today I want to talk about the DANGling “ing” participle—emphasis mine, teeheehee. Oh, you got that the emphasis was mine, thank-yew-very-mush? Well . . . annnywaaay . . .

If I used an ING present participle, I’d write something like:

Typing on her keyboard, Kat beat her head against the wall.

kat's hair after said beating against wall

Typing is the participle. See, that’s the kind of sentence I’d want to change even if I had never heard of a participle. Because I Imagine The Scene. How can I type and beat my head against the wall at the same time? Okay, smart-arse, yes I may COULD but, in reality, I probably couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Or:

Drinking my coffee, I ponderificated what I would write next.

Drinking is the participle. Now, I could do both those at the same time, couldn’t I? Yet folkses, that’s not the greatest of sentences, is it? But not so very bad, right? Riiigghht. I find it rather weak, unlike my coffee this morning *hair standing on end*

Or:

Walking to Whale Back Rock, two bears were playing.

Lawd! This last sentence/scene is a great example of sentencing/scenes that suck—and a great example of a Dangling Participle.  My character walks to Whale Back Rock. Two bears play. That’s two different actions—two different “scenes.” In rewrites, I’d recast this sentence to create a scene/scenes that the reader could more imagine/identify with/see without going “Huh?”—one that is less confusing. Yes, the reader could figure out what I mean, but why have them do all the work? I want them to work elsewhere in my novel—where it counts. I don’t want them to have to figure out what I mean because of sentence structure. I want to show the character’s action and I want to show bears’ actions. I’d want you to see/imagine the character and the bears as two separate actions or things or scenes instead of this morphy kind of weird amalgamy thang blobberated together.

I’m now working on my sixth novel, plus I’ve written a novella, so I have hope that with each work I use fewer and fewer (remember: not less and less, because I can count the instances), or none!, dangling participles. I have hope that I use fewer and fewer of all manner of “what I’m not ‘supposed to do’s’” and more of what I am. But I ain’t no programmable robot or computer; I am a biological machine with fallible parts in my pea-headed brain that whir and click and stumble-de-bumble all over creation. We all are. We must be forgiven for making mistakes. But, there is no excuse for Lazy Writing—lazy writing is when you just do not care. Lazy writing is when you flop out crap in a big-arse hurry to publish.

Lazy Writer eating chocolate and not caring

Lazy writing is when you whine about how haaaarrrd this writing life is and you just want to wriiiiite and you don’t have time for all this struuuuucturrrrre because you are an arrrttiiisst. Huhn.

So, most often when I finish a Good Draft of my novel, I do a “find” or “search” for words ending in ING to see how I’ve done; to see if I am practicing what I preachifiy . . . why? because we all know there’s a sneaky little gremlin hiding in our brains who likes to fiddle-dee-dee with our manuscripts when we aren’t paying attention. It waits until we metaphorically turn our backs and then goes into our manuscripts/blog posts/letters/emails/school papers/essays and drops in the Sneakity Sneaking Crap.

(By the way, as a side note: We have blogs, we write blog posts. Blogs are the ‘website’ and posts are the things we write on our blogs-websites. Blogs are not the posts, posts are not the blogs. That is all.)

kat's pea-headed hair all neat and contained before said tearing out or beating of head

So, do careful rewrites/edits of our manuscripts take a lot of time? Danged tootin, and I near-bouts pull out my hair when I’m down to the last few “go-rounds” of my work. The more I write, however, the more I trust I am creating tighter prose—she says with a big arse hope-filled bubble hovering over her head ready to burst and send her words back down upon said head.

The more I practice my craft and the more I 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 bitcherly bee-otch!).

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 that makes my head burst and brain splatter is not attractive and mucks up the keyboard works, y’allses.

In the case of the Dangling Participle, I am not so much worried about the Term, as I am those ING words/phrases: Imagine the scenes you write. What do I always tell you? Yes, Pay Attention.

To check the strength of your manuscript, do you ever do random or not-so-random “find” searches?

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16 thoughts on “Monday Classroom: DANGling Participles . . .

  1. I spent a long time removing ing and ly words from my ms. Not all have gone, and I am bound to have messed up along the line. Those dang dangling participles will be the death of me! Great lesson, Kat, thanks!

  2. Participles have always been my favorite sentence “starter”…..seem to give most emphasis and put the reader right “into” the subject actively. Great article and loved your hair….it is even finer than mine….amazing.

  3. Writing on my blog, or should I say blogging on my blog, the participles were a-dangling. Or was I posting to my blog? When in doubt, write a dang declarative sentence. Thanks for another informative and highly entertaining post. Love the chocolate pic. Chocolate always works for me when I get stuck.

    • *laughing!*

      I still remember that chawlet day — it was before I quit spluring so much on sweets and started the interval trainings. Oh, I’ll never forget that day — the Chocolate Day – *sigh of remembrance*

  4. Worrying in my head that if I read this post I’d have to face my “danglers” and thereby repent! Jeezaloo, but Monday rolls around and I’m sweating over Monday Classroom, knowing I’m going to be an offender of whatever the topic may be. Guiltily, I crept back to my keyboard and got right back to editing :-(

    • Laughing!

      I sweat on Monday Classroom, too, but for me it’s the fear I’m going to make the mistake in the post that I am writing about – Lawd! lawd! :-D

      Remember: we just do the best we can! ;-D

  5. Ya know, I was left dangling once, then the coffee kicked in. I now swing over the swamp so there is no splashing. Dangling not, behind not I was not left. Branching out, I can not tell a lie. For it was I who chopped the tree down.

  6. Hi Kat .. love the Dangling story here .. but the part about two scenes makes sense. Fun – and I’m hopeless at grammar .. and definitely don’t understand it .. or the whys and wherefores … but the two scenes might have sunk in … cheers Hilary

  7. You make language and grammar and particular participles fun! I am hoping I am not dangling dangerously.

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