Monday, July 15, 2013

Ah, the poor misused gerund...

Every once in a while I get a bug up my butt about grammar. Why? Because romance novels are dissed all the time, and I firmly believe one of the biggest reason is that “we” (authors and editors) let grammar errors slip through our manuscripts.  

Lots of our readers are educated, and when we make slips like the ones I’m about to discuss, they grind their teeth. Though they like our stories, the errors that creep through the cracks make them think we’re creative, but not very bright…and that’s the part that bites my butt. I know most of us ARE bright.

So let’s talk about misuse of gerunds, the mistake (I think) that makes our readers grind their teeth the most.

Such as:

Eating her breakfast, she combed her hair. Really? She can’t do those two things simultaneously -- unless she doesn’t care about getting hair in her cereal. Because that’s what readers see, someone eating her breakfast and combing her hair simultaneously…because that’s one of the purposes of the gerund. To show you two things happening simultaneously.

You CAN say:

Chasing her dog, she tripped over the uneven pavement.

Caressing her hair, he kissed her.

Worse, though, (at least to me) is the wrong subject of a sentence that has a gerund phase as a modifier.

Running down the stairs, her cell phone rang.

The cell phone is the subject of the sentence. The gerund phase modifies the subject. So is your heroine’s cell phone running down the stairs?

I think readers can sort of chuckle at that one and move on…It’s the ones in love scenes that make them laugh at us.

Caressing her hair, his chest brushed her breasts.

Wince. Can his chest caress her hair?

Or how about…

Kissing her, his thigh slid along her thigh.

Can his thigh kiss her? While it’s sliding along her thigh? That’s quite a feat!

** These aren’t real examples that I’ve found by the way. I made these up. But, seriously, the ones I’ve found were worse.  

So please…watch your gerunds. I know you’re trying to switch up sentence structure so that your paragraphs and scenes aren’t repetitive and flat. Gerunds are a great way to do that. Just use them correctly and you’ll accomplish both goals. Your sentence styles can be mixed up and your paragraphs won’t fall flat.

Happy Monday! I’m about to finish packing for RWA Nationals. Wish me luck in the Rita’s with THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHTER and the National Readers' Choice Awards with NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE'S TWINS.



Unknown said...

I see what you mean and it is a problem. However, what you're describing is called a dangling modifier. Gerunds are verbs being used as nouns by adding -ing. In one of you examples, "Combing her hair..." their is no gerund present. Gerunds are nouns and, therefore, take the place of subjects, direct objects, and object of prepositional phrases. Therefore, you descriptions of phrases modifying the wrong nouns / subjects (phone instead of heroine) are actually dangling modifiers.

Susan said...

Genevieve...Thanks for the correction! It seems the gerund is also misunderstood by me. LOL!!! I'm sure my readers appreciate getting the correct information.