To Beat a Grammarian:
Miscellaneous Points on Modifiers and Adjective Clauses
Now that you’re clear on what modifiers are, let’s look a little more at common mistakes a few authors do with them, beyond the rudimentary ones.
Twiddling his fingers, Tom walked over, staring at the baroque art.
Truly, there’s only a slight problem with this. As you can see, this sentence has two modifying clauses lined up right after the other. This can be fine, but too often, in beginner writing, I see this happen over and over everywhere—this includes mine own from time to time. The easiest way to fix it is to throw in a coordinating conjunction or FANBOYS, or use an infinitive. In this instance, this:
Twiddling his fingers, Tom walked over and stared at the baroque art.
Twiddling his fingers, Tom walked over to stare at the baroque art.
When it comes to adjective clauses, I’ve noticed another odd habit. See below.
Billy was shocked, seeing the car that shone a bright red.
All in all, it’s not that bad. But usually an adjective clause is used to append information to a noun that is something other than an adjective; hence, a clause. However, as you can see, the above clause is comprised of the adjectives ‘bright’ and ‘red’ which don’t need to be turned into a clause. The best way to write it then is:
Billy was shocked, seeing the bright red car.
Now, some may quibble that the ‘shone’ verb in the line lends a quality of shininess to the car as well as gives a certain style to the presentation. That may be true, but when this fault occurs over and over in a manuscript, it appears to be more than just a stylish tick.
Another problem arising with this kind of writing is the dreadful hanging adjectives. Check it out.
He marched into the room, strong and proud, making his way straight to Tessa.
In the middle of this line, we see ‘strong and proud.’ Again, like the above one, it can be okay to use from time to time. But self-published works use it far too often. Any book that does so starts to take on an amateur sense to it.
With all the different techniques we can use as writers, one of the most important is variety—as I’ve mentioned elsewhere. Using one too frequently kills momentum. On top of that, it just feels lazy. In this situation, you either need to pump up your weak verb, or append the adjectives to their correct place.
In the end, these may be small flaws to address, but they are ever-present. And when it comes to the pen of bloodthirsty grammarians, leaning on the side of caution is always best.