I've been finding more and more of these types of constructions in published fiction, and it really bugs me. There's nothing gramatically wrong with it, but it's just poor form, in my opinion. ESPECIALLY in a first-person narrative. People just don't talk or think that way. At least I don't.
Am I crazy? Do these types of constructions get on anybody else's nerves?
Would Hemingway begin a sentence with a dependent clause?
We're talking about fiction here. I can see where these types of constructions might be useful in omniscient POV, but most modern novels are written in first or limited third. In that context, to me, using dependent clauses for the beginning of sentences on a regular basis just sounds ridiculous.
If you're describing, for example, a boating adventure to a friend, you're not going to say Grabbing the oar, I started to row. If you're like me, and I dare say most people who grew up speaking English, you're going to say I grabbed the oar and started to row.
But, alas, a lot of excruciatingly bad prose does get published, and a lot of it sells. It doesn't sell to me, but I suppose we all have our thresholds for what is and isn't crap. Choosy mothers choose Jiff, and I'm a choosy mother.
Descending the cliff on bleeding fingers, Emily began to understand why they'd told her to take an ice ax with her in summer.
If we're in third-person limited POV, would Emily actually be thinking in these lame types of constructions? Not in my fictional world. If we're supposed to be in the character's head, I think the language shoud reflect that.
Emily descended the cliff on bleeding fingers. Fuck! Why didn't she believe them when they told her she'd need an ice ax in summer.
You do it your way, Linton, and I'll do it mine. But my way's better. :)
In this case, Linton's sentence is better. The dependent clause at the beginning is important, because it allows Emily to do two things at once: descend the cliff and think.
There's nothing wrong with your wording, but the use of "fuck" and the use of multiple sentences breaks up the flow of the prose, yet adds nothing to the description. And Linton's sentence puts us into the scene better, because it is made obvious that she didn't stop to think while climbing, but did it as she was climbing. A subtle difference, but an important one, I think.
Also, Linton's sentence doesn't get inside Emily's head at all, so she's not thinking in any construction. In your version, you're only in Emily's head for one word, "fuck", and then you're right back out again.
By "in the character's head," I mean limited to that character's perceptions.
The prose for third-person limited and first-person is fairly interchangeable. So, if I were sitting at a bar describing the event to a group of friends, I wouldn't say Descending the cliff on bleeding fingers,...
I might, however, say, I descended the cliff on bleeding fingers...
That still sounds pretty melodramatic, but at least the construction isn't just...silly.
I see your point, but literature is different than telling a story to friends in a bar. In real life we say "um" a lot, but you don't want to see that in a novel. So yeah, no one would say "Descending the cliff on bleeding fingers" to friends in a bar, but a book is different and anyway Emily wasn't saying that, the narrator was.