How Participle Phrases Can Lead to Time Warps

Freelance editor Joshua Essoe shows us how to avoid a common problem: participles that cause time warps.

Joshua Essoe, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #451

Dangling Participles

Also, be wary of creating a situation where the participial phrase doesn't actually modify anything. When this happens, it's just left hanging there. 

It becomes a dangling participle. What this means is that sometimes it becomes difficult to determine what noun the participial phrase is modifying—and sometimes that noun isn't even in the sentence! Let's go back to our wizard and give him a dangling participle. 

Blasting fireballs from his hands, the enemy was vanquished.

Blasting fireballs from his hands no longer modifies anything. Its noun has vanished! It doesn’t modify enemy, it still modifies the wizard

To fix this, change it to Blasting fireballs from his hands, the wizard vanquished the enemy.

The Time Warp

Now, back to our original example that warped time: 

Taking off his jacket, he threw his keys on the countertop and poured himself a whiskey.

Identify what's wonky there yet? How can he be taking off his jacket while he's throwing his keys on the countertop and pouring whiskey? Unless you're writing Shiva or Dexter Jettster, this just isn't possible. Many authors don't realize they have multiple, separate actions taking place at the same time when they aren't precise with their language. Make sure that when your characters are performing actions, they complete their first action before moving on to the next. I also see this a lot with the conjunction as.

Back to our example. This is clearer: 

He took his jacket off, threw his keys on the countertop, then poured himself a whiskey.

The sentence also offers an opportunity for including sensory information, using more specific language, and using language that isn't so neutral. So, you could write this: 

He shrugged out of his jacket, leaving the creaking leather where it fell. His tossed keys clattered across the stained countertop, and he grabbed an open bottle of Wild Turkey by the sink. He gave it a quick pass under his nose, enjoying how it burned away a few hairs, before sloshing some into a smudged glass.

You get the idea.

So when you're writing, mind your dangly bits, don't warp time, and remember to include specific information to bring your writing to life.


Joshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s done work for best-seller David Farland, including editing the multi-award winning novel, Nightingale; Dean Lorey, lead writer of Arrested Development; best-seller, James Artimus Owen; and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. He is currently the copy editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine.

Together with tie-in writer Jordan Ellinger, indie success-story, Michael J. Sullivan, and traditionally published author and NY Times best-seller, Debbie Viguie, he records the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create. You can find his interview episode here.

When not editing . . . ha ha, a joke. He was a 2014 finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and lives with his wife, and three horrible cats near UCLA.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Joshua Essoe, Writing for Grammar Girl

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