Risks in Writing

My response to Fandango’s prompt for today: DANGER

Writing, as we all know can be fraught with hazards.
There are PLOT HOLES and SAGGING MIDDLES.
Our CHARACTERS may lack depth or interest.
The editor may say, “TOO MUCH LIKE one we just published.”
A reader may give us a BAD REVIEW even when we’ve done our best.

And there are editorial errors like
MUDDLED PHRASES and WANDERING MODIFIERS
that keep us from getting our message across.

I just finished a series of three cozy mystery books, written by A.G. Barnett. The series is subtitled, “A Brock & Poole Mystery.” Books in this series are:
#1. An Occupied Grave
#2. A Staged Death
#3. When the Party Died

These are police procedural mysteries, not so much danger and high tension like writer Charles Todd’s books, but quite satisfying in regard to plot and likable, believable characters. However, the editing in the first two books leaves something to be desired now and then. For example:
“He stood, looking down at the man that was waving his arms theatrically about him, arms folded.”

Edit #1: a person man is always a who.
Edit #2: Move that wandering modifier back where it belongs and snip a bit:
“He stood, arms folded, looking down (he was really tall) at the man who was waving his arms theatrically.”

The writer was quite inclined to switch to pronouns, so there were times during the first two books where I had to stop and think, “Who does he refer to?”

I’ve written an example to illustrate what I mean:
Roddy has a little monkey and he loves to climb trees. He calls him Timbucktu but he has a bad habit: he never comes when he’s called. When he’s being really stubborn he offers him a banana and he usually comes right away and grabs it.

I was happy to see that by the third book Mr Barnett, or his editor, had caught on to this problem and cleared up most of the confusion.

More Examples of Wandering Modifiers

We watched the avocets poking around in the pond with their long beaks through our binoculars.

Driving by in the car, the falling snow sifted down onto the shrubs around the abandoned house.

And one of my all-time favorites in the Muddled + Mystified Dept:
A social assistance recipient, providing information to her case worker about her two newest dependents, wrote, “According to your instructions, I have given birth to twins in the enclosed envelope.”

WHAT BRINGS THIS TOPIC TO MIND?

In the course of emptying book cases and moving books around, I came across a thin paperback written by Saskatoon columnist Bill Cameron. The title of this sort-of-memoir:
A Way With Words: A Light-hearted Look at the Agony of Writing.
©1979 by Bill Cameron
Published by Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, SK
I really enjoyed reading it, though it may be out of print and unavailable now.

Mr Cameron points out to wannabe writers that the biggest danger is not saying what you mean. He gives a number of humorous examples showing how reporters and others have strayed from Say-what-you-mean clarity. (To keep things straight, I’ll post his comments in green.)

This snippet from a tourist brochure gives visitors to SK a curious picture of travel here:
“If you pull off the highway…and the first car to pass waves and the next one along stops and chats, you’re in Saskatchewan.”

“Cars that wave? Cars that stop and chat! And all this time, I thought it was the people of SK, not the automobiles, who are friendly.”

According to Cameron, this once-upon-a-time General Motors press release “set off chuckles and cackles all over the newsroom.”
“Some 800 employees…were furloughed for a short re-tooling period.”

“I presume furloughed is a weasel word for laid off. More important, I hope it was the factory which was re-tooled, not the workers.”

Even the universe is somewhat amiss, according to one news item:
“Ranging in size from dust particles to giant comets, interplanetary space is full of debris.”

“Nonsense. If space was full of debris there wouldn’t be any space, and Armstrong and Aldrin could have walked to the moon.”

An editor must read the news article carefully before committing it to the printer. As this Canadian Press headline from the 60s demonstrates:
“Alberta Catholic Women’s League delegates passed resolutions calling for tighter legislation against abortion and pornography at the group’s annual convention.”

“To suggest, as this does, that abortion and pornography go on at the annual convention…not only doesn’t say what the writer meant; it’s close to slander.”

Then there’s the famous one about Yogi Berra…a line that has been picked up by more than one gag writer since its original appearance.
“After he was hit on the head by the pitched ball, Berra was taken to hospital for X-rays, which showed nothing.”

I understand there are grammar checker programmes available now that will go over our writing and zero in on these zingers. Have any of you others bought one already? I’ll think I will be ordering one shortly. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Risks in Writing

  1. A favorite of mine: We had stopped at a rest stop in Colorado. There was a sign on the inside of the door of the stall I was using. I laughed out loud when I read: Toilet flushes after leaving stall.
    I nearly fell off the seat thinking about that.

    I have a notebook full of such hilarious errors. One of them was from a television ad for a calcium supplement. The voice-over said, “As a young child, calcium was needed. . . . .”

    Really. I didn’t know calcium was ever a young child 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s