Friday, June 28, 2013

My Thoughts, Such as They Are, on Commas

What is it about commas? 
Periods are seldom ignored, so why is such a useful punctuation tool as the comma the object of such disdain? Not only editors, but writers, too, argue the worth of commas--sometimes writers even argue with their editors…Imagine.
Articles are written and re-written, debating the necessity of commas, especially the pros and cons of the "Oxford" (serial) comma (wikipedia); a wittier take on it is here
Most writing programs ignore punctuation altogether, which makes sense--after all, you're supposed to have taken at least English 101 before becoming an author, right?
An editor friend recently emailed me about a manuscript he's currently working on, writing that it was "well written, thank God, but like a lot of folks, the author doesn't really have a handle on commas. I am well aware of the 'open' style, which usually means 'no commas,' but sometimes they are necessary."
I agree wholeheartedly. The error I mark the most on manuscripts is the necessary addition of a comma. If I have to stop and re-read a sentence in order to figure out what you were trying to say, that usually means it needs a comma. Or even two. You don't want your readers to be slowed down by having to decipher confusing sentences. 
The good news is that there's an easy way to find 90% of the "missing" commas in your writing. Read it aloud. Better yet, talk into a recorder, then play it back and look at the manuscript as you listen. You'll hear when there's a very brief "stop" or teensy pause, or, sometimes, just a slight change in tone--those audible hints mean that you might need a comma. 
(Don't be afraid--if you insert too many, your diligent editor will happily take them out!)
Okay, enough about that--I'll get down off my soapbox.
By the way, an author I recently worked with, Gayle Carline, has a new title out, "From the Horse's Mouth: One Lucky Memoir." If you like horses, you'll enjoy getting to know Snoopy. His story is "Black Beauty" for the 21st century--but with a lot more laughs!
Ask for it at your bookstore, or find it here on Amazon (available for Kindle too).
hasta pronto!