Grammatical Error of the Day: 2/13/16

Error:

George placed his watch on the bed next to his wallet.

Why is it Wrong?

The sentence makes it read as though the bed is next to the wallet as opposed to George placing the watch beside the wallet.

How to Fix It:

A little restructuring of the sentence should make it read clearer: George placed his watch next to his wallet on the bed.

 

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Grammatical Error of the Day: 2/6/16

Error

Growing up, my grandmother’s house was a fun place to visit.

Why is it Wrong?

It contains a dangling modifier, since the sentence makes it read as if the grandmother’s house was growing up as opposed to the narrator.

How to Fix It

The first half of the sentence needs a subject: When I was growing up, my grandmother’s house was a fun place to visit.

I hope this helps with your writing or editing. This is a common error that’s often easy to miss.

 

When Spoilers Are No Longer Spoilers

Warning: Although these spoilers are ancient and technically no longer spoilers, there may be some who may think them spoilers anyway.

Sometimes surprise endings in books or film are so ingrained in the pop culture psyche they no longer become spoilers. It’s like saying, “Hey, Clark Kent is Superman.” Basically everyone knows that. So it’s no longer a spoiler.

One work of literature I’d like to note that best fits the no-longer-a-spoiler category is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

First published in 1886, the story held a surprise ending at the time: Jekyll and Hyde are the same person! But, I’m guessing you already knew that, right?

Because that “spoiler” is now so much a part of pop culture there are even sayings devoted to it. For instance, an inconsistent sports team is often noted as a Jekyll-and-Hyde team, having numerous ups and downs. Sometimes we even joke with a friend, who might be a bit moody, by saying, “Am I speaking with Jekyll today or Hyde?”

When I first read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde I was almost floored by the fact it was set up to make the reader think the two men were separate individuals. Is the dastardly Hyde blackmailing poor, innocent Jekyll into including Hyde in his will? Like many of the movies that have come after, I was expecting from the very beginning for Dr. Jekyll to undergo a transformation right before our “eyes” and turn into the fearsome Hyde. But we only see a transformation at the end.

Another slight surprise for me anyway was the fact Hyde has a first name. It’s Edward. I always thought he just went by Hyde or Mr. Hyde, if you’re nasty.

The work is still very interesting to read even though we know how it’s going to end. It’s the ultimate study of duality, of good and evil.

Now I wonder when The Sixth Sense enters that no-longer-a-spoiler realm.

Keeping Track of the Timeline

A few months ago I went to the dentist for my cleaning. While lying back in the dental (torture) chair, I conversed with my dental hygienist, as we shared personal stories along with brushing habits. I don’t know about you, but I like to know a lot about someone before he or she goes prospecting in my mouth for cavities and the like. Otherwise, I’m just not that kind of guy.

Anyway, the whole time while my teeth are being scraped and probed and who knows what else, I could swear two hours went by. Which explained my perplexed state when I looked at my watch and found only about twenty minutes had passed. Apparently my experience in the chair somehow skewed my sense of time. And that made me think of how the same thing could happen to an author when dealing with a timeline in a story.

The timeline is an essential part of a book. If it’s messed with, it creates chaos—readers will wonder what is what.

So it’s important to make sure to have a smooth, concise, and consistent timeline throughout the book.

pocketwatch

I’ll give you one example of a “warped” timeline. Let’s say Dale arrives at his friend Johnny’s home at ten in the morning. And Dale only spends a half hour at Johnny’s before leaving at one in the afternoon.

*sirens going off*

We have a botched timeline, ladies and gentlemen! Because, if Dale only spent half an hour at his friend’s place, and seeing he arrived at ten in the morning, it should be approximately 10:30 a.m. and not one in the afternoon.

Yes, definitely strange there. But an issue like this can be taken care of. And here’s how:

You could make up an outline, keeping track of the days, hours, minutes that have passed between scenes or during scenes. This will go a long way to make your timeline consistent throughout. And you can easily refer to it when double checking the time of the story.

Another, easier, way is to be vague about the time in the first place. This allows you far more wiggle room. So instead of saying Dale arrived at Johnny’s at ten in the morning, you would remove “ten in the morning” entirely and all mentions of exact time. In a way, it’s like what people say about lying. The more specific and detailed the lie, the deeper in trouble you get.

Having a consistent timeline is vital. If something is off, it might make readers feel as if they’re spending a long day at the dentist’s office. And who wants that?

Throwaway Words

Think of throwaway words as those annoying foam peanuts you might find when opening a package marked as fragile. Yeah, they’re okay and all, but when you get right down to it they just make you want to go crazy, what with them spilling everywhere and sometimes clinging to your clothes.

In short, throwaway words can be downright aggravating. Because they’re basically unnecessary. Now I ran a post about unnecessary words, but I wanted to go into more detail here.

Here’s a prime example of a sentence containing throwaway words:

The gloves on his hands were too tight.

Okay, this absolutely reeks of throwaway words. Last time I checked, gloves are typically worn on the hands (yeah, sure, if you’re drunk they could wind up on other places, but I don’t even want to think about that right now). So it would be prudent to remove “on his hands” from the sentence. Then you’d have: The gloves were too tight.

We can easily assume the gloves were tight on his hands.

The same thing goes for other body parts most times, such as the eyes: Her eyes scanned the room for any sign of trouble.

Again, we could assume she’s doing this with her eyes. So instead it would be easier to remove “Her eyes” and replace it with “She”: She scanned the room for any sign of trouble.

Removing throwaway words tightens sentences, makes your writing crisper and come alive. What I’m really trying to say is don’t pack your sentences with foam peanuts if good ol’ bubble wrap alone will do.

 

Glance and Gaze Mix-Up

Two words I’ve noticed that usually get mixed up are “glance” and “gaze.”

To glance at something is defined as giving a brief and hurried look. And to gaze means to look steadily and intently at something.

So, there are specific instances when you glance at something or gaze at it.

Here’s an incorrect usage of “glance”: His mouth watered as he glanced at the chocolate cake, studying the delicious frosting.

Why is this wrong? Well, besides the obvious—who simply glances at chocolate cake? It’s criminal!

The use of “glanced” here is incorrect because it seems the character is giving the cake a longer look than a mere glance allows. Especially when “studying” is used not long after. So a better word choice would be “gazed”: His mouth watered as he gazed at the chocolate cake, studying the delicious frosting.

And sometimes “gazed” or another word is used when “glanced” would suffice: She briefly gazed at her watch before hurrying to the cab.

While on the surface this doesn’t seem like a big deal, the sentence could easily be reduced by one word to create a smoother flow while replacing “gazed” with “glanced”: She glanced at her watch before hurrying to the cab.

See? Much better.

Be careful not to confuse “glance” with “gaze” or other words. Is a character briefly looking at something or studying it intently? This will help to avoid any misuse of “glance” or “gaze” or other words.

Now excuse me while I hunt for a slice of chocolate cake.