Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to improve writing (no. 46)

[Mark Trail, October 17, 2013. Click for a larger view.]

Given the tools available to me, I can’t do much to improve Mark Trail’s “cell phone,” which looks more like the battery from my old Sony Vaio. But I can improve writing. The last panel is the problem:

[Mark Trail, original.]

As Dusty Rhodes asks, what are you getting at, Mark? What’s on that phone of yours? The problem is the misplaced modifier “except us.” Garner’s Modern American Usage explains:

When modifying words are separated from the words they modify, readers have a hard time processing the information. Indeed, there likely to attach the modified language first to a nearby word or phrase.
Garner offers a grimly comic example: “Both died in an apartment Dr. Kevorkian was leasing after inhaling carbon monoxide,” a sentence suggesting that Kervorkian inhaled before he leased. Here’s what Mark Trail should have said:

[Mark Trail, revised.]

Between today’s strip and tomorrow’s, Dusty will probably figure things out.

This post marks the second time I’ve improved writing in a Mark Trail strip. Here’s the first. I rely on the free Mac app Seashore when I make such improvements.

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 46 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

comments: 6

Fresca said...

Fun teaching point!

But your solution has been bugging me since I read it this morning because the placement of the "except us" matters:
putting it at the end like Mark does really means "...if you don't tell." You lose Mark's subtle invitation to tell a lie when you move it.

How 'bout using a comma or ellipses before "except us" instead?

Michael Leddy said...

I see your point: a dash or an ellipsis could do the job. I think the invitation to lie is still there if “but us” falls earlier in the sentence.

Mark’s logic leaves me bewildered: no one knows that he was trying to record anything either. If he wants to bluff, he didn’t need to use a phone to begin with. Thinking about these things is part of the fun of reading Mark Trail. :)

Fresca said...

The Morally Ambiguous Mark Trail.

I've never gotten used to this speedy "new" Mark Trail--remember when nothing ever happened in the strip? (I guess that was 30-some years ago.

Michael Leddy said...

I’m a relative newcomer to the Trail. Maybe Mary Worth would offer the pace you recall. I followed it for a while and recall a phone conversation that took a couple of weeks. :)

Fresca said...

Funny you should mention Mary Worth--I'd recently come across a (fond) blog about how hilarious it is:

(Um, btw, I stumbled on your blog a while ago, blog-hopping, found your Tweezerman post, and just kept coming back. Fun stuff here. Thanks!)

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the recommendation. My wife, who doesn't read comics, says that she knows that blog. I guess there’s something about Mary.