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The Trouble with Floating Body Parts and Misplaced Modifiers

2017 February 1

A fellow author posted an example of a misplaced modifier. While I don’t want to use the published example, I have created one of my own: Gliding easily across the lake in ice skates, my head wasn’t prepared to hit the frozen tundra. One man’s focus on a misplaced modifier is another author’s focus on floating body parts.

I did not coin the term floating body parts, but kudos to the individual who did. The words provoke such an image for me that I am probably over-sensitive when body parts go rogue. When I read a sentence drafted much like the example, I tend to look at it literally. Therefore, the head in said sentence is imagined as sitting atop a pair of ice skates. This image is brought about by the “ing” construction of the sentence. In many cases, an author forgets to assure that the “thing” doing the “ing” is the right “thing” to do the “ing.” So, a better construction of that sentence would be: While I glided easily across the lake in ice skates, I wasn’t prepared when I fell and hit my head on the frozen tundra OR I glided easily across the lake in ice skates, so I wasn’t prepared when I fell and hit my head on the frozen tundra.

A note: not all “ing” constructions are incorrect. The key to eliminating floating body parts and misplaced modifiers in a manuscript is to work toward clarity in every sentence and by attaching a pereson to the body part doing the action.

Misplaced modifiers are much like the missing “of,” “the,” and other often used words that escape an editor’s careful scrutiny. Editors and authors tend to see the image they’ve created clearly, so that the misplaced modifier and/or the floating body parts are unseen until someone with a fresh eye catches it and calls it out.

So what other floating body parts should be avoided?

Her eyes rested on me. *Shudder* Better: Her gaze/stare/attention rested on me.

Her hand fell over mine. *Call it Thing.* Better: She covered my hand with hers.

His shoulders slumped. *Minor, yes, but annoying.* He slumped forward.

His foot held the door open. *That’s a weird doorstop.* He pushed his foot into the door, blocking me from closing it.

I’d love to hear if you have any examples of misplaced modifiers or floating body parts.

all-current-books-01-17-2017-collageFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. With the release of Everybody’s Broken, three of the four books in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series, which also includes Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Frozen Notes, Book 4 of the Amazing Grace series and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind series.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.

4 Responses Post a comment
  1. February 1, 2017

    Excellent, Fay! I couldn’t help but laugh at your examples and now I won’t ever miss a floating body part while I’m reading 🙂 I’ll also keep close attention to my own writing to prevent a limb from careening around the room!

    Blessings,
    Deb

  2. February 1, 2017

    Sorry–try rogue!
    The words provoke such an image for me that I am probably over-sensitive when body parts go rouge.

    • Fay Lamb permalink*
      February 1, 2017

      Thank you, Elsi. You’d think the editor would have known that with all the Star Wars promo of late.

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