Tag Archives: punctuation

Interrobangs and other Mutant Morsels of Madness #amwriting

Writers at the beginning of their career often get into the habit of using punctuation as a kind of shorthand. They tell us “This is dangerous!” “She was mad!” or “This is funny!”

When we are in the midst of writing the first draft of a story, we don’t notice how frequently we use the exclamation point to convey excitement and urgency.

But that habit must be addressed in the revision process. Making too free with the power punctuation makes the narrative too breathless, or in the case of ellipses, too slow and halting.

When prose is well-written, it conveys the excitement of the moment without force. A good author doesn’t resort to creating excitement with the overuse of exclamation points as this makes the narrative feel frantic.

It tells the reader what to think, rather than showing them a scene that is exciting.

When I am laying down the first draft, I am just as guilty of filling the manuscript with exclamations, em dashes, and ellipses as anyone. I am in a rush to get the ideas down on paper.

In reality, we only need one or two morsels of power punctuation per page. The way you have set the scene combined with the dialogue itself should convey the tension without your having to sprinkle the narrative with loud, proud punctuation.

The common, garden-variety period or comma will usually serve the situation well and won’t throw the reader out of the book. When we think about how to shape a scene with words, the punctuation we use won’t be a needle in the eye of the reader.

But what about !?  These mutant morsels of madness are called “interrobangs.”

Editors working in the publishing industry will tell you that the interrobang is not an accepted form of punctuation for anything but comic books, manga, and possibly, text messages to your BFF.

Think about it: comic books show events and emotions by combining pictures with as few words as possible to tell the story.

Writers of comics frequently employ interrobangs because they are limited on space. They use creative punctuation as a shorthand for the reader.

It’s your narrative, so of course, you will do as you see fit. However, more than one punctuation mark at the end of a sentence is not accepted in literature of any genre but comic books. Thus, interrobangs are a writing habit the professional writer will avoid if they want to be taken seriously.

If you choose to include the interrobang in your work, don’t be surprised if you receive negative feedback from your beta readers or writing group. To be seen as a professional, you must write as professionally as you are able.

As writers, our intention is to immerse the reader in the story, not blow them out of the manuscript. Unfortunately, power punctuation used too freely becomes a bludgeon, beating the reader with how exciting it all is.

We subconsciously use the exclamation point as a shorthand. They are signals for us to expand on in the second draft. When we make revisions, we remove the loud punctuation and reshape these telling scenes so that they become showing scenes. We search for the right words to show the emotion of the moment and use unobtrusive punctuation.

But how do we convey excitement if we’re not allowed to use enough exclamation points?

A great resource for ideas on how to convey strong emotions without telling the reader what the character is feeling is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

When you submit a manuscript to a contest or publisher, they will look at your knowledge of mechanics and grammatical style first. If you look like an amateur, your work goes straight into the rejection pile.

In writing, “mechanics” is the term used for how the rules of grammar and style are applied to the kind of work you are writing.

The rule is that all sentences should have only one punctuation mark to signify the end.

“Ahah!” you say. “What about the ellipsis?”

The ellipsis is not punctuation. It is the accepted symbol signifying words that have been omitted.

When the ellipsis falls at the end of the sentence, it should be three dots followed by the required punctuation.

  • If the ellipsis falls at the end of a sentence in dialogue, use a comma at the end of it followed by a speech tag. “But, my dog…,” Annie said.
  • If no speech tag is used, employ a period, question mark, etc. “But, my dog….” Annie’s brow furrowed.

This is because the ellipsis at the end of a sentence symbolizes unspoken words, trailing off.

The Chicago Manual of Style says:

Use an ellipsis for any omitted word, phrase, line, or paragraph from within a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipsis: one uses three dots for any omission, while the second makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: . . .) and omissions between sentences (using a period and a space followed by three dots: . …). An ellipsis at the end of a sentence with no sentence following should be followed by a period (for a total of four dots).

Once again, I emphasize that we use the Chicago Manual of Style  as our grammar reference guide if we are writing fiction and intend to publish it. The Chicago Manual of Style is written specifically for writers, editors, and publishers and is the publishing industry standard. All the editors at the major publishing houses own and refer to this book when they have questions.

If you develop a passion for words and the ways in which we bend them, as I have done, you could soon find your bookshelf bowing under the weight of your reference books. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of occupation. No style guide will fit every purpose, but the Chicago Manual of Style comes closest.

If you want to symbolize cut off words, the em dash at the end of a sentence does the job, and in that case, no punctuation is needed.

Consider the following quote from A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain. In this case, you do not add punctuation:

It did seem to me that life was just too lovely to—

In writing fiction, when it comes to punctuation, these rules have no exceptions:

  • Exclamation points must be used sparingly, or they lose their effectiveness.
  • Ellipses symbolize omitted words and are not punctuation, so when the conversation trails off, you must add ending punctuation. My God, I thought. What…?
  • Em dashes can either set off phrases—like this—or if used at the end of a sentence an em dash can indicate cut off words, like—

Exclamation points, em dashes, and ellipses are like speech tags. They are necessary, but simplicity is the key to making them unobtrusive. Generally, dialogue worded powerfully, along with the way you visualize and then show the attitude of the characters and their situation will serve to convey the emotions.

When it comes to punctuation, you can choose to tell or show. How you choose to blend showing and telling is what makes your voice unique.


Sources and Attributions:

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 639 sections 13.51 – 13.55 The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 334 Section 6.84 Em dashes to Indicate Sudden Breaks, The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago. Fair Use.

A Dog’s Tale,  by Mark Twain. © 1904 Harper & Brothers, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Dog%27s_Tale&oldid=769178379 (accessed May 16, 2017).

Power Punctuation by Connie J. Jasperson was first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on May 17, 2017 and has been revised and re-edited.

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Chaos Theory, Commas, and Basic Punctuation #amwriting

Punctuation and the fundamentals of how to use it can be confusing for many new writers. Most grammar books and style guides are difficult to understand and seem intimidating. What follows is only a quick guide, a “How-To Guide for Basic Punctuation.”

The many convoluted laws of grammar can make the literary universe a chaotic place. Commas can be tricky because some applications are open to interpretation. However, the most basic laws of comma use are not open to interpretation.

Two things we never do:

  1. Never insert commas “where you take a breath” because everyone breathes differently.
  2. Do not insert commas where you think it should pause, because every reader sees the pauses differently.

Commas and the fundamental rules for their use exist for a reason. If we want the reading public to understand our work, we need to follow them.

The Fundamental Laws of Commas:

Commas join two independent clauses. The independent clause is a complete stand-alone sentence.

  • Boris worships the ground I walk on, but his adoration tires me.

Dependent clauses are unfinished and can’t stand on their own. They should be joined to the sentence with a conjunction.

  • Boris worships the ground I walk on and brings me my coffee.

You do not join independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences) with commas as that creates a rift in the space/time continuum: the Dreaded Comma Splice:

Comma Splice: Boris kissed the hem of my garment, the dog likes to ride shotgun.

The dog has little to do with Boris, other than the fact they both adore me. The same thought, written correctly: Boris kissed the hem of my garment. The dog likes to ride shotgun.

Comma splices? Don’t do it! The universe will grind to halt, and everyone will die, and it will be your fault.

Would it be better if we used a semicolon? No. That would create a nuclear holocaust of the literary persuasion.

The dog riding shotgun is an independent clause and does not relate at all to Boris and his adoration of me.

I have said this before, but semicolon in an untrained hand is a needle to the eye of an editor.

Remember: Semicolons join independent clauses, which are clauses that can stand alone, but which relate to each other.

Your best bet is to avoid using them except under extreme duress as they can create some lo-o-o-o-ong, run-on sentences.

But what if you absolutely, positively have to use a semicolon, or your skin will melt? Trust me, it won’t happen, but there are rules for using this type of punctuation, and the wise author will follow them:

Two clauses that are joined together with a semicolon should be

  • complete sentences that relate to each other
  • if they don’t relate to each other, make them separate sentences and reword them so they aren’t choppy.

Two separate ideas done wrong: Boris attempted to kiss the hem of my garment; my boot was in his face.

The first sentence is one whole idea—Boris adores me. The second sentence is a completely different idea—my boot was someplace inconvenient.

Two separate ideas done right, assuming the mention of my boot is important: Boris attempted to kiss the hem of my garment, but my boot was in his face.

I don’t dislike semicolons as some editors do, but I generally try to find alternatives to them. I think they are too easily misused because people forget the simple rule:

Semicolons (;) should be used only when two stand-alone sentences or clauses are really short and relate directly to each other.

We like people to understand exactly what we mean, so we ALWAYS use the Oxford Comma, also known as the Serial Comma.

If there are only two things (or ideas) in a list, they do not need to be separated by a comma. If there are more than two ideas, the comma should be used as it would be used in a list.

Dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds.

Colons (:) head lists but are never to be used in the literary narrative, so YES, we DO use serial commas to prevent confusion when we are listing things. You’ve all seen the memes—and you’ve heard the arguments.

On a personal level, I do love cooking my pets and my family. (But not in the same pot.) They’re happy that I use serial commas. Argue against the Oxford comma all you want–you will never change my mind.

I want to thank my parents, Ralph and Maggie Johnson and Poseidon.

Although the dog thinks I’m a goddess, I am not really the daughter of Poseidon. Parents, when named, are a single unit. A comma after Johnson would eliminate confusion.

We use a comma after most common introductory clauses.

After dark, Boris would change into his bat form and go hunting for insects.

To wind that up, commas tame the chaos that our words can become. They are the traffic signals, signifying a pause or a joining.

>Periods, also called full stops, end sentences.

In dialogue, all punctuation goes inside the quote marks. A comma follows the spoken words, separating the dialogue from the speech tag, and the period (or question mark, or exclamation point) ends the sentence.

“I agree,” said the editor.

If you follow these simple rules, your work will be readable. 

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Honesty in Writing #amwriting

As writers, we are entertainers. We write books for people who want a diversion from the daily grind. No matter what the subject or genre is, we write escapes, windows into other lives, other places, other realities. When we offer the book to the public, we hope the reader will stay with us to the end, hope they find the same life in the narrative that we thought we were imparting when we wrote it.

This can only happen if we are honest. When I first started out, I wrote poetry, lyrics for a heavy metal band. I was young, sincere, and convinced I had to impart a message with every word. I didn’t know until twenty years later when I came across my old notebook—my poems weren’t honest. I wasn’t honest with myself, and when I looked back at my work, I could see the falseness clearly. My words were contrived, formed too artfully. They shouted, “Look at me! I’m young and full of angst, but I’m talented and artsy!”

When I began writing stories for my children, I still wrote crap, but it was honest crap. I no longer had anyone to impress—children are never impressed by parents who write. They are also quite honest about where a story fails to impress them, and why. I began to write fairy tales that were honest, but not written by an educated author.

With that as my training ground, learning how to make my writing enjoyable became a goal. It was there that I discovered that, besides writing honestly, an author needs to be consistent with punctuation. I had no idea I was uneducated—after all, I had done well in school.  Even so, I had to re-learn the fundamentals of American English grammar because my first real editor pointed out that I hadn’t retained much of what I was taught in elementary school.

As Ursula K. LeGuin said in her wonderful book, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, “If you aren’t interested in punctuation, or are afraid of it, you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful, elegant tools a writer has to work with.”

My rule is to embrace what I fear, so I embraced grammar. I’m not perfect, but I make an effort.

I have always been a reader, enjoying books in every genre and style.  While the books I love are scattered all across the spectrum, they have one thing in common—they are all written by authors with an understanding of the basic rules of punctuation. Sure, they break other rules of grammar with style and abandon, but they do pay attention to punctuation.

This is because punctuation is the traffic signal telling the reader to go, slow, pause, yield, go again, or stop. Punctuation at most of the right places allows the reader to forget they are reading and encourages them to suspend their disbelief.

Writers begin as readers. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King gives us permission to read for six hours a day, should we so desire. Reading is how we come to understand writing and the art of story. (He also admonishes us to learn the fundamentals of punctuation and grammar.)

In my quest to understand the art of story I have come across some pretty awful books. I don’t consider “hard to read because it is written in an old-fashioned style” awful. However, I do consider “hard to read because the author wasted my time” awful.

Contrived prose is not poetic. Hokey and forced situations are not exciting. Perfectly beautiful people bore me. Long passages about clothing and furnishings bore me.

Write me an honest story about “real” people with real problems, one that comes from your deepest soul. Set it in outer space, or the Amazon Jungle—I don’t care. I read all genres and all settings. I will forgive imperfect grammar and punctuation for a great story that rings of truth and touches my heart.

Let me sink into your story. Let me forget the world—let me become so into the book I forget to cook dinner.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote: Ursula K. LeGuin, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, ©1999 Ursula K. LeGuin, First Mariner Books Edition 2015, page 11.

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Power Punctuation Revisited #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

An interesting conversation occurred in one of the many writers’ forums I frequent on Facebook, a discussion of the use of the ‘interrobang’ in modern literature. When the discussion was over, several new-to-the-craft writers lay dead on the floor, and two editors were blue in the face.

Okay, the writers weren’t actually dead unless acute embarrassment is a terminal condition. (Give me a break—I’m an author, and I write fiction.) However, I’m pretty sure the editors were blue in the face.

Anyway, most editors agree that the interrobang is not an accepted form of punctuation for anything but comic books, manga, and possibly, text messages. I thought about writing a new post on the subject, but instead, I have decided to be environmentally friendly and recycle this perfectly good post from May of 2017.

Enjoy!


A little power is a dangerous thing, and certain punctuation has power.

Exclamation points!

Em dashes—

Ellipses…

These are all wonderful, fun things to play with, but making too free with the power punctuation makes the narrative too breathless, or in the case of ellipses, too slow.

When prose is well-written, it conveys the excitement of the moment without force. A good author doesn’t resort to creating excitement with the overuse of exclamation points as this makes the narrative feel frantic. It tells the reader what to think, rather than showing them a scene that is exciting.

When I am laying down the first draft, I am just as guilty of filling the manuscript with exclamations, em dashes, and ellipses as anyone. I am in a rush to get the ideas down on paper.

This is a subconscious shorthand for the second draft, which is where I take those telling scenes and show them.

I do a global search for exclamation points, ellipses, and em dashes. At each one, I examine the scene. Nine times out of ten, I reword it to show the action and change the power punctuation to a period. Many times I find the em dash or ellipsis was not needed.

Exclamation points, em dashes, and ellipses are like speech tags. They are necessary, but simplicity is the key to making them unobtrusive. Generally, dialogue worded powerfully, along with the way you visualize and then show the attitude of the characters and their situation will serve to convey the emotions.

When it’s done right, you will only need one or two morsels of power punctuation, and the punctuation you use won’t be a needle in the eye of the reader. The common, garden-variety period or comma will usually serve the situation well and won’t throw the reader out of the book.

All punctuation has its place and should be used appropriately. For the most part, the way you have set the scene combined with the dialogue itself will convey the tension without your having to sprinkle the narrative with power punctuation.

I suggest you do a global search and change most of them to a period.

But what about !?  These mutant morsels of madness are called “interrobangs.”

Comic books frequently employ interrobangs, generally because the authors are limited on space for narrative and use creative punctuation as a shorthand. They do this as a way of telling the story.

It’s your narrative, so of course, you will do as you see fit. However, the exclamation point before a question mark is not accepted punctuation in literature of any genre but comic books, so don’t be surprised if you receive negative feedback in reviews. Interrobangs are a writing habit the professional writer will avoid if they want to be taken seriously.

Peppering the narrative with exclamation points and interrobangs is a form of telling the reader “this is exciting” as opposed to showing the excitement. We want to immerse the reader, not blow them out of the manuscript.

Power punctuation used too freely becomes a bludgeon, beating the reader with how exciting it all is.

A great resource for ideas on how to convey strong emotions without telling the reader what the character is feeling is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

All sentences should have only one punctuation mark to signify the end. “Ahah!” you say. “What about the ellipsis?”

When the ellipsis falls at the end of the sentence, it should be three dots followed by the required punctuation.

  • If the ellipsis falls at the end of a sentence in dialogue, use a comma at the end of it followed by a speech tag. “But, my dog…,” Annie said, her brow furrowed.
  • If no speech tag is used, employ a period, question mark, etc. “But, my dog….” Annie’s brow furrowed.

This is because the ellipsis at the end of a sentence symbolizes unspoken words, trailing off. The ellipsis is not punctuation.

The em dash at the end of a sentence symbolized cut off words, so no punctuation is needed.

This is what the Chicago Manual of Style says:

Use an ellipsis for any omitted word, phrase, line, or paragraph from within a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipsis: one uses three dots for any omission, while the second makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: . . .) and omissions between sentences (using a period and a space followed by three dots: . …). An ellipsis at the end of a sentence with no sentence following should be followed by a period (for a total of four dots).

Once again, I emphasize that we use the Chicago Manual of Style  as our grammar reference guide if we are writing fiction and intend to publish it. The Chicago Manual of Style is written specifically for writers, editors, and publishers and is the publishing industry standard. All the editors at the major publishing houses own and refer to this book when they have questions.

If you develop a passion for words and ways in which we bend them, as I have done, you could soon find your bookshelf bowing under the weight of your reference books. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of occupation. No style guide will fit every purpose, but the Chicago Manual of Style comes closest.

However, some things are universal:

Exclamation points must be used sparingly.

Ellipses symbolize omitted words and are not punctuation, so when the conversation trails off, you must add ending punctuation. My God, I thought. What…?

Em dashes can either set off phrases—like this—or if used at the end of a sentence an em dash can indicate cut off words. Consider the following quote from A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain. In this case, you do not add punctuation:

It did seem to me that life was just too lovely to—

It is your task to write the narrative so that it shows the character’s emotions. Their eyes will widen, or their mouth will drop open, or they will stop and stare. When it comes to punctuation, do you tell, or do you show?

You make the decision, but I see the interrobang and the overuse of the exclamation point as if they were too much seasoning. They are strong flavors that can ruin the taste of the narrative.


Sources and Attributions:

Power Punctuation by Connie J. Jasperson was first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on May 17, 2017.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 639 sections 13.51 – 13.55 The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 334 Section 6.84 Em dashes to Indicate Sudden Breaks, The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

A Dog’s Tale,  by Mark Twain. © 1904 Harper & Brothers, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Dog%27s_Tale&oldid=769178379 (accessed May 16, 2017).

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#amwriting: demystifying the semicolon

Semicolons are misunderstood and misused bits of punctuation. Some people believe they are extra-long pauses, halfway between a comma and a (full stop) period. With that in mind, they litter their work with instances of typographical madness.

Semicolons are NOT extra-firm pauses. When writing genre fantasy, em dashes (or hyphens if you are British) serve that function. Semicolons have a different place in the universe. So now we’re going to examine the semicolon and discover what it is that they actually do.

The proper use of a semicolon is to join two short sentences that are directly related to each other, turning them into a compound sentence.

No one enjoys reading a choppy narrative because too many short sentences can be distracting and hard to get into. The way we smooth the narrative is to join short sentences into longer, compound sentences. But frequently, that creates run-on sentences. (I am the queen of those.)

SEMICOLON: Use a semicolon in place of a period to separate two complete, stand alone sentences where the conjunction has been left out. These sentences MUST be directly related to each other.

Incorrect: Call me tomorrow; if it rains. (The semicolon is not needed because “if it rains” is not a stand alone sentence. This sentence should be written: Call me tomorrow, if it rains.)

Incorrect: Call me tomorrow; the car is running in the driveway. (Each clause can stand alone but they have no relation at all to each other. They are separate thoughts completely.)

Correct: Call me tomorrow; we’ll make the arrangements then. (The conjunction and has been replaced by the semicolon.)

The key to understanding semicolons is to understand what a stand alone sentence is. A stand alone sentence consists of a subject and a verb, and expresses a complete thought:

Vera walked carefully across the rough ground.

Dogs and their owners came from all over to play in that park.

If you have sentences that express complete thoughts but make the narrative choppy, you can connect them with a conjunction: Rain had fallen. The yard was flooded. We were trapped.

Rain had fallen, and the yard was flooded, so we were trapped.

Alternatively, we could rewrite the sentences in such a way they aren’t choppy:

Rain had fallen, flooding the yard. We were trapped.

If you don’t want to use a conjunction and you absolutely must use a semicolon, or you will burst into flames, you have the legal right to do so.

Rain had fallen, flooding the yard; we were trapped.

Authors who truly believe in themselves and their work will go out of their way to learn the proper use of punctuation. Once we know the mechanics of the English language, we will use it in ways that define our vision for our work.

When we learn how punctuation functions in making our sentences flow for the reader, we begin to develop our sense of style. We begin to craft our work with intention.

As a result, our work ceases to be uneven, with occasional flashes of brilliance. It becomes engrossing, something our readers can get lost in.

However, there are some considerations for each author to ponder when it comes to the use of the infamous semicolon. For general fiction or literary fiction, semicolons are no big deal. Used properly, readers and reviewers won’t even notice them.

If you are writing in genres such as paranormal fantasy or hard science fiction, I suggest you use conjunctions or rewrite the sentences in such a way they aren’t choppy, rather than resorting to using semicolons. Some reviewers in those genres seem to despise semicolons, saying they are “archaic.” These reviewers will criticize work sprinkled with semicolons as being “too literary” (whatever that means).

Maybe they are archaic, but I doubt it. When I first began writing, I used to employ semicolons far too frequently and improperly. I had the good fortune of having an editor who was patient and happy to explain how they actually function. I bought a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and that book is what I refer back to when I have questions about how punctuation works.

While I rarely use them myself nowadays, the semicolon is a legitimate punctuation mark, and when used correctly, it has a specific task. I suspect the many haters of this little morsel of madness are simply confused by the proper use of it, and therefore they consider it unnecessary.

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Clauses and Pauses

commaCommas–those mysterious, curving morsels of punctuation designed to contain clauses, but which, when used  irresponsibly, wreak havoc in the ordinary life of the author.

According to the wonderful website, Get it Write, there are two specific situations that call for the use of a comma before the word and:

The first instance is created when there are  three or more items in a series. This mark of punctuation is called the serial comma which I covered in a post called Comatose Ambiguity, (see link here)

“The second situation occurs when “and” is being used to coordinate two independent clauses. An independent clause—also known as a main clause—is a group of words that has a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence. In the following example, the independent clauses are in brackets:

  • [Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years], and [today he is an accomplished performer].

“The use of the comma would also apply when any of the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) join two independent clauses.

“Notice in the next example that we do not use a comma before “and” because it does not join two independent clauses but merely joins two verbs:

  • Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years and today is an accomplished performer.

“Here we have only one independent clause—two verbs (“took” and “is”) but one subject (“Miguel”).” (Quoted directly from Get it Write, Sept 8, 2014)

I know this will be difficult for some to swallow, but commas do not serve as pausing places for the reader to breathe.  They join together clauses–short sentences–that would make your narrative sound choppy if they were left to stand by themselves. Take these short sentences, for instance:

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily. He cut a swath through the ranks quickly. Even Garran had no legitimate complaints. He still needled John at every opportunity.

Each sentence  can technically stand alone, but they are boring and choppy that way.

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily, cutting a swath through the ranks at such a rate that even Garran had no legitimate complaints, although he still needled him at every opportunity.

Another good online reference is Brian Wasko’s Write at Home Blog. His article called 7 Ways NOT to Use a Comma is good stuff. Of particular interest to this post on using commas for pauses: “The comma-by-ear method doesn’t work — at least not consistently. I inevitably inserted unnecessary commas all over the place.”

One rule he mentions (that is one of my personal weak areas) is rule number four (and I love his comments): 

4. Don’t use a comma to connect two clauses if the second clause is subordinate (i.e., dependent).

Frowny face:  Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined, because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers.

Smiley face: Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers. (end quote)

I would have shot straight to sticking the comma in front of ‘because’ because it is a good place to pause. (Yep. I said because because.) (Snicker.)

Using commas for pauses is an invitation for comatose mayhem. Consider this: Every person reads aloud at a different rate and with a different cadence. If you indiscriminately throw your commas in wherever YOU think a pause should go, your prose will be filled with strange bumps in the road, because your reader won’t be pausing where YOU think they should. No matter how much of a control freak you are, you can’t force people to read the same way you do. This is why we follow common rules when using punctuation.

Commas separate independent clauses from each other and also from introductory words. In other words, they divide little sentences from each other in order to form compound sentences. 

Oh, the editorial agony.

 

 

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