Life is unfair. Those who want to be comedians have a difficult time being funny. Those who are trying to write something serious often end up being unintentionally hilarious. Assuming that you do not want your readers to laugh at you instead of with you, I thought I'd offer you some examples of how NOT to write. Consider the picture painted by the following sentences:
* Having been thrown in the air, the dog caught the stick.
* Smashed flat by a passing truck, Rover sniffed at what was left of a half-eaten hamburger.
* The young girl was walking the dog in a short skirt.
* The dog was chasing the boy with the spiked collar.
* Piled up next to the washer, I began doing the laundry.
You'd never write something so silly, you say? Well, try these, all taken from students writings in a creative writing course.
* Standing on the balcony, the ocean view was magnificent.
* I heard that there was a revolution on the evening news.
* While taking out the trash, the sack broke.
* Having laid an egg weighing two pounds, the farmer proudly displayed his favorite ostrich before the photographers.
* Having given birth to six kittens, my girlfriend anxiously watched her exhausted cat, Whiskers.
* Ugly, warty creatures with protruding noses and bat-like wings, architecture students find gargoyles endlessly fascinating as expressions of the grotesque.
* The robber was described as a six foot-tall man with brown hair and blue eyes and a mustache weighing 150 pounds.
* Deciding to pack up for college, my dog stared sadly at me as I bustled about the room.
* Having applied a tourniquet, the bleeding finally stopped.
* The policemen finally stopped the criminal using pepper spray and handcuffs.
* David struck down Goliath fighting against a giant.
* Famous throughout the world for his shocking makeup, wailing lyrics, and androgynous wardrobe, the editor of our church newspaper chose to interview Marilyn Manson.
* In awe, circling the coldest regions of outer space in an endless dance, the astronomers watched the planet Pluto.
Each one of those sentences contained an example of a dangling modifier -- an adjective, a prepositional phrase, or a participial phrase -- placed too far away from the word it was supposed to modify.
Fortunately, once you start to look for these, they tend to jump out and grab your attention. Even better, the solution is easy.
First, check for any modifying words that appear at the beginning of a sentence. That's where we get into the most trouble, primarily because we're trying so hard to vary the sentence structure.
When you find one of these, underline the closest noun that appears in the sentence, either before or after the modifier. That's the word the phrase is modifying, whether you want it to or not.
Ask yourself if the modifier and the noun fit together logically. If they do, great! If they don't, you've detected a dangling modifier. Rewrite the sentence.