Sunday, June 11, 2017

Who Doesn't Love a Misplaced Modifier? by Karla Stover


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Trust me; I am not a writer snob. One of my critique groups, once, broke up  when I referred to a bunch of trees as a corpse rather than copse. And since I make mistakes, I give myself permission to enjoy an internal tee hee at those of others. In the May 27, 2017, a staffer for The News Tribune, our local newspaper wrote the  following:


Ferries cost $13 for car and passenger, $7 for bike and rider. Free for kids. They run on the hour.

     I, for one, prefer an hour with no running kids.

     In Mary Poppins, Mr. Dawes Sr. director of London's main financial center says:

"I know a man with a wooden leg called Smith."

     Did the non-wooden leg not rate a name?
 
     "A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modified or describes."

     Here's one I found in a book discussing English schools:

"Bedford School was another [public school]; endowed by the Harper Trust, which kept its fees
low . . ."

Further reading explained it was the school, not the trust which kept the fees low."

When Go Set a Watchman, the original To Kill a Mockingbird came out, it seemed to fade fast. However, the edited version remains a classic. An article on www.telegraph.co.uk says Tay HoHoff, an editor at the firm, J.B. Lippincott, would not have published the book in its original version. In fact, it was HoHoff who advised Lee to scrap the original version of Scout visiting her father as an adult and instead tell the story from a child's point of view. The rewrite process took three years. It also says, "The differences between the two books call into question how much of To Kill A Mockingbird was written by Lee, and how much was shaped by Hohoff."

Which brings us back to the point I'm trying to make: Publishers no longer have the time or wherewithal to spend three years molding a book. It is up to we the writers.  The website, www.writingcommons.org suggests authors  do the following:

1.  place the modifier as close as possible to which is being modified.
2.  place adjectives in front of the noun, adverbs in front or directly behind or at the beginning or end of the sentence.
3. words such as almost, even, just, nearly, only, or simply go in front of the word (or words) being modified.
4.  do not put the modifier between the word, "to" and the verb. It creates a split infinitive. "To quickly move" should be "To move quickly."

The same article suggest circling the modifier and drawing an arrow to the word it modifies and read the sentence aloud.

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     Of course, we could imitate Ernest Hemingway's style, i.e. use plain grammar and "easily accessible language" in "short, rhythmic sentences that avoid reflection, skip the adjectives, and concentrate on the action. and avoid adjectives where ever possible, but where's the fun in that?

     These faux pas are everywhere, from Groucho Marx--One morning shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know,"  to street signs, "Caution Pedestrians Slippery When wet."

     It's best to soldier on, I think, and if we misplace a modifier, well, it will be someone else's tee hee.
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