Are you dangling?

vehicle closing

When writing sentences, be careful not to dangle.

Some sentences have mistakes that make them difficult to read. Other sentences contain mistakes that make them hilarious. The funny ones often contain dangling modifiers. Learn what dangling modifiers are and how to avoid them so that you don’t make people laugh when you want them to be serious.

A dangling modifier fails to refer logically to any word in the sentence. A dangling modifier is usually a word group, such as a verbal phrase, that suggests, but does not name, a perpetrator. When a sentence opens with such a modifier, the reader expects the subject of the next clause to name the perp. If the subject doesn’t, the modifier dangles.

When writing

  • Place the modifier as close as possible to the word it modifies.
  • Put an adjective as close as possible to its noun.
  • Put an adverb as close as possible to its verb.

Here’s a favorite blooper: “The Rialto Film Institute will celebrate its grand reopening after a nearly decade-long renovation that doubled the number of screens to four on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.” I wonder where they got contractors to build two theaters in three hours. On Sunday from 2 to 5 belongs after grand reopening, of course, and two sentences might be better than one. Here are some other examples.

DANGLING Deciding to join the fitness club, the trainer shook Carrie’s hand. Deciding dangles because it describes Carrie, not the trainer.
CORRECT Deciding to join the fitness club, Carrie shook the hand of the trainer.
CORRECT When Carrie decided to join the fitness club, she shook the hand of the trainer.

DANGLING Upon seeing the tree listing sideways, strings were put in place to hold it upright. Upon seeing dangles because it describes the gardener, not the strings.
CORRECT Upon seeing the tree listing sideways, Jackie fastened strings to hold it upright.
CORRECT When Jackie saw the tree listing sideways, she fastened strings to hold it upright.

DANGLING Though only 14 years old, the teachers were impressed with Ariel’s grasp of Shakespearean tragedies. Though only 14 years old dangles because it describes Ariel, not her teachers.
CORRECT Though only 14, Ariel had a grasp of Shakespeare that impressed her teachers.
CORRECT Ariel, who is only 14, had a grasp of Shakespeare that impressed her teachers.

DANGLING After denying any wrongdoing, the helicopter whisked the president to Camp David. In this sentence, After denying any wrongdoing modifies the chopper.
CORRECT After he denied any wrongdoing, the president waved from the helicopter and left for Camp David.
CORRECT The president denied any wrongdoing, climbed onto the chopper and left town.

Best wishes for safe dangling.

 

12 more ways to begin writing your life story

nostalgia

You want to write your life story, your autobiography, your memoir. 

Don’t know where to start? Write about your life today.

1. Write about the room you are sitting in while you are writing.
2. Write about your summer vacation, or any vacation, but this time tell the truth. What do you remember clearly? Bugs in the hotel room? The peeled shrimp with hot sauce you ate as an appetizer?
3. Kissing Bob (or Bobbie) on the beach, just before the lightning struck? No generalities.
4. See or do something ordinary in order to write about it, something you see or do often without thinking about it, experiencing it fresh this time. Then write. Write about walking from the bus stop to your office, brushing your teeth, sweating through spinning class, making love, buying toothpaste, traveling to work.
5. Write instructions for making or doing something. How to ride a motorcycle, build a patio, bake an apple pie, or drive to your house from the turnpike.
6. Take a moment and stretch it out. Turn a split-second into an essay, telling what went through your head: while waiting for a traffic light, while watching a car accident happen, while seeing your child play contact sports. Make a soufflé.
7. Write something you feel strongly about: A political candidate, recycling, spanking; or about someone you strongly dislike and what he/she does to you, how you react, how you feel.
8. Write something no one else could ever write: A personal event, a relative, a crime you committed, a celebrity encounter.
9. Choose a person who knows you well – relative, friend, co-worker – and describe yourself as he/she sees you.
10. Write fiction about someone you don’t know: someone in this room, a stranger you see on a bus, anyone.
11. Write about a piece of music. Listen to it while you’re writing. Drift with it.
12. Write a dialogue with a part of yourself, a figure from a dream, or an excess.
13. Write an essay beginning: I remember…. I don’t remember…. I think…. I don’t think…. I’d thinking of…. I know…. I don’t know…. I want…. I don’t want…. What I really want to say is…. I’ve always wanted to write about…. I love…. I hope…. I wish…. If only….

See also 45 ways and 48 ways. That totals 105 ways to start your autobiography.

45 ways to begin writing your life story

WRITE

Begin at the beginning. Start with something small.

You want to write your life story, your autobiography, your memoir. You have experienced the range of human emotions. You have survived dramatic, frustrating, terrifying and romantic events. You want to tell the world. Right?

But you don’t know where to begin. Right?

If you contemplate and write about your own life, your own experiences, 3 things will happen:

  • You will experience them more fully.
  • You will learn what you think about the issues you wrestle with.
  • You will have endless material.

As Flannery O’Connor said, “Anyone who has survived his own childhood has enough material for a lifetime.”

Topics: Write about your early years
1. Stories you have heard about yourself.
2. Your room, house, neighborhood.
3. Photos that remind you of magic moments.
4. Toys, games, playgrounds, playmates that you remember.
5. A possession that meant a great deal to you.
6. Hardships, accidents, fears.
7. Childhood fantasies.
8. Your role in the family circle.
9. Family gatherings and holidays.
10. Favorite foods, clothes.
11. Favorite songs, stories.
12. Important pets.
13. Religious observances.

Topics: Write about your school days
14. Your route to school, on foot, on bike, in a car, in a bus.
15. Memorable teachers.
16. Specific lessons, subjects, assemblies.
17. Classmates, friends and enemies.
18. Trouble you caused, problems you had.
19. That special report card.
20. Lunchtime, recess, after school.
21. Achievements and talents, recognized and ignored.
22. Books, games, sports, radio and TV shows, movies.
23. Your heroes.
24. Historical and political events that affected you.
25. “First” experiences: traveling alone, tasting a new food, riding a bike, etc.

Topics: Write about your teen years
26. Special outfits, clothing trends, styles.
27. Classes you loved or hated, excelled or failed.
28. Friends.
29. Rules you had to follow – and whether you did.
30. Historical and political events that affected you.
31. Crushes or romances, real-life.
32. Crushes on heroes and superstars.
33. Hobbies, sports, musical interests.
34. After-school activities, weekends, summers.
35. Real jobs.

Topics: Write about your college years
36. Special outfits, clothing trends, styles.
37. Classes you loved or hated, excelled or failed in.
38. Special professors.
39. Career preparation.
40. Friends.
41. Historical and political events that affected you.
42. Romance.
43. Hobbies, sports, musical interests.
44. Real jobs.
45. Extra-curricular activities, weekends, summers.

Read 48 more and 12 more. Now you have 105 ways to begin writing your memoir. 

48 more ways to begin writing your life story

we are a normal family

Begin at the beginning. Start with something small.

You want to write your life story, your autobiography, your memoir. You have experienced the range of human emotions. You have survived dramatic, frustrating, terrifying and romantic events. You want to tell the world. Right?

But you don’t know where to begin. Right?

Topics: Write about your college years.
1. Special outfits, clothing trends, styles.
2. Classes you loved or hated, excelled or failed.
3. Special professors.
4. Career preparation.
5. Memorable classmates, closest friends.
6. Historical and political events that affected you.
7. Crushes or romances.
8. Hobbies, sports, musical interests.
9. Real jobs.
10. Extra-curricular activities, weekends, summers.

Topics: Write about your young adult years
11. Early career moves.
12. Working conditions: responsibilities, supervisor, salary.
13. Romances that ended.
14. Romances that lasted.
15. Pride in your accomplishments, or making your family proud.
16. The wedding: big, bad, beautiful.
17. Real life: early living quarters, making ends meet.
18. Children.

Topics: Write about your middle years
19. Major plot twists in your life.
20. Dealing with teenagers.
21. New career, new job, old marriage.
22. Traveling.
23. Hobbies activities, new or continuing.
24. Closest friends.
25. Major accomplishments.
26. A high point, a low point.

Topics: Write about your later years
27. Major plot-twists in your life.
28. Retirement, grandparenthood, moving.
29. Volunteer work.
30. Traveling.
31. Major successes.
32. Major losses.

Topics: Write about your turning points and fortuitous events
33. Ten important events of your life.
34. Major relationship that ended.
35. Friendships betrayed.
36. Illness or handicap taking its toll.
37. Your strengths, weaknesses.
38. Accidental meetings or discoveries.
39. A lucky break.
40. Someone who changed your life.

Topics: Write about your feelings
41. Alternatives you envisioned.
42. Available options.
43. Influential people, places or things.

Topics: Write about what happened after the turning point
44. The effects on your life, your attitudes, your personality.
45. The ways you changed.
46. Relationships.
47. Your decisions.
48. Lessons you learned

Read 45 more topics and 12 more topics. You now have 105 ways to begin your autobiography.

FAQ: Focus

no photography, please

Q. When I write stories for the company’s e-newsletter and blog, I feel lost in all the details I have gathered. It’s so hard to figure out what it means. Advice, please?

A. Your experience is common. Every writer faces this dilemma sometimes.

First make certain that you have all the information you need. Then write 3 words that form the focus, the nub, the heart of the piece. Three words: subject + active verb + object. For example:

• Company announces layoffs.
• New building will house trial-advocacy programs for law school.
• Physician-in-chief receives astonishing national award.

That doesn’t work? Try these other tricks:
• Imagine that you are at a coffee shop. Your friend sits down and says, “What story are you working on?” What will you answer? Make that your focus.
• Focus on the one thing the reader must know.
• Focus on the novelty in this story. (Even if it’s dull, try to find something interesting.)
• Focus on the reason you care (or your manager cares) about this.
• Focus on the emotions that touch you.
• Visualize how the story will end, and you might find clues to getting there. Focus on that.

If all else fails, put away your notes. Write as fast as you can and see if logical patterns of meaning emerge.

Good luck. As I said, it happens to all of us.