Writer Wednesdays: Don’t dangle!

Something I see all the time when I’m editing is the dangling modifier. I also see it when I’m reading published books, magazines, web pages, and when I listen to the news. It’s so dang common, it’s amazing.

Don’t dangle your modifiers.

If you’re saying “Wait, what?” right about now, you’re probably a repeat dangler, so let’s clear that up.

Say you have the sentence, “Calling the cops, the robber was reported by the woman.”

Who’s calling the cops here? The robber: “Calling the cops, the robber…” Would a robber call the cops? No siree, so that should be your first clue that you’re dangling — if you stop reading immediately after the noun, does the sentence make any damn sense?

I think the biggest reason people dangle their modifiers is the use of passive voice: “the robber was reported.” If you take out the passive voice, it works: “Calling the cops, the woman reported the robber.”

Sometimes dangling your modifier leads to a deceptively easy to read sentence. “As chief of police, the rookie knew Dutch had to have a lot on his mind.” It’s tempting, because the correct alternative is kind of a mess: “As chief of police, Dutch had to have a lot on his mind, the rookie knew.” Better would be: “The rookie knew that, as chief of police, Dutch had to have a lot on his mind.”

So, whenever you have a modifying phrase at the beginning of a sentence, especially an -ing word (“Calling the cops”), say the phrase and the noun immediately after, and then STOP. Is the noun the person who is performing the -ing action? If not, you’re dangling.

About alisaacarter

I am a writer of young adult novels, wife, mom of three, lover of animals, former magazine editor, reader of anything paranormal, and coffee fanatic.
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