"The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier", Bonnie Trenga

Pros: Entertaining, sly, informative, memorable, easy to reference, quick to read
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review copy courtesy of F+W Publications

Grammar is something that so many people struggle with, and it can be tough to find a book on it that you’re really willing to sit down and read. I’ve found some good ones over the years, such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Keys to Great Writing. I’ve also found one or two that were painful to read. Still, while I enjoyed “Self-Editing” and “Keys”, some people would prefer something… shorter. Simpler. Perhaps because they’re deathly afraid of grammar, or perhaps because they already know much of it and just want to brush up on the details now and then.

The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, by Bonnie Trenga, is perfect for these people. Each chapter on a particular “grammar crime” begins with a case for Detective Pinkersolve. These case write-ups deliciously skewer the English language in some way. The chapter goes on to explain why this type of grammar error confuses and confounds readers and how to fix it, with the help of many examples. Finally you’re encouraged to fix up the opening case to make it more readable, then compare it to a sample rewrite in the back of the book.

This book will be particularly fun for those who enjoy reading mysteries, as the examples all draw on aspects of crime and police-work. The examples are also hilariously comical and over-the-top, making them entertaining to read rather than headache-inducing or boring. Unlike the humor in the aforementioned painful-to-read grammar book, the humor here is sly, ironic and delightful.

A Few Details that Particularly Impressed Me

It’s clear that Ms. Trenga has carefully thought through the content of this book; nothing here is off-handed or rushed. Rather than simply stating that passive voice is bad, as many people do, she details the situations in which it would be appropriate.

Instead of simply showing us “incorrect” and “correct” examples, she often details incorrect, correct, and “even better.” This beautifully shows the reader that there can be a difference between writing that is technically correct and writing that is good.

Ms. Trenga tells us why the various “crimes” detailed in this book confuse readers or weaken our writing, rather than expecting us to follow them simply because they are the rules. She also explains that there’s a difference between getting your ideas down on paper–which can be easier to do if you write quickly and ignore the rules–and polishing them up afterward for public viewing.

If you’re looking for an in-depth textbook, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers or, particularly, Keys to Great Writing would probably be the better choice. However, this makes a perfect general-purpose guide to aid your writing style. It’s so entertaining to read that it won’t bore you, and I found it to be a quick read. It also includes a glossary and index in case you need to look up something specific.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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