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punctuation

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earthshoes



Joined: 17 Jun 2004
Posts: 213
Location: SW Missouri
punctuation  Reply with quote  

Specifically, commas. I was just informed in a workshop that I used too many commas in a piece of flash fiction. I don't think I've ever been accused of that one before.

I rarely refute arguments concerning punctuation (especially commas which are damnable little things; they are never where they should be no matter what I do with them). However, this time, I read it aloud. I listened for unnecessary pauses, checked how they affected the pace. They felt like they were in the right place. I pulled out my Strunk and White and double checked. Yep. For once, they were all where they belonged. So . . . I said so.

I should have just said thank you and moved on. Another reviewer stepped in and tried to show me how much better one of my sentences would be without them. It created a very long, unterrupted thought and sped the passage up. The piece is quite short and most of the dialogue internal, but the pace is intended to be slow and the commas are placed as such. If it was a piece of poetry this would be even easier because the linebreaks would serve the same purpose. Rather than argue with them further, I'll let it go.

However, another writer friend (also a newepaper editor) and I had this conversation concerning commas a while back and her opinion is that you leave commas out as often as possible.

Anybody else given this any thought? I know it sounds nit-picky, but I'd like to lay this issue to rest.
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Last edited by earthshoes on Sat Aug 14, 2004 12:29 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Fri Aug 13, 2004 5:23 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail AIM Address Yahoo Messenger
Lauren



Joined: 07 Mar 2004
Posts: 1582
Location: Massachusetts
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You strike me as someone who knows your way around grammar and how to write. Some people just hate commas and will tell you to get rid of them. But if the ones in your piece set off pauses and group thoughts together, and set the pace, then I say leave 'em.

Have you read Eats, Shoots & Leaves yet? There's a whole section devoted to just this topic, and it basically comes down to a matter of opinion (the author is in favor of commas, by the way). Any chance you'd post it here so we can see?
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Post Fri Aug 13, 2004 8:38 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address ICQ Number
jeannie



Joined: 14 Apr 2004
Posts: 71
Location: Vancouver
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I think that if you've intentionally put commas in your piece to acheive a specific effect or control the pacing, then they should probably stay. However, if people are distracted by them enough to point them out, maybe you should have another look. I have a horrible time with punctuation. It is hard to know when to stick to the rules and when and how to break them effectively. I think it would be fun if you posted your piece without any commas and then have others put them where they think they should be. In any case, don't be discouraged because someone doesn't like where you've put a comma or two. If that is the only criticism you'r getting, I think you're doing just fine.

Post Fri Aug 13, 2004 10:32 am   View user's profile Send private message
chris
Site Admin


Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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I've been doing this professionally for fourteen years and I still have no idea when I should use a comma and when I shouldn't. Yeah, I know the rules, kinda, but fuck the rules. I mean, you always want to use commas to join independent clauses, in a series, before or after an attributive in dialog, but when you start talking about the rhythm of speech, it's gets sketchy. Sometimes, in a scene like you describe, with lots of pauses, that should be read slowly, you will convey that better by having your characters speak in incomplete sentences. In my experience, the only people who actually speak slowly are stoned or acting on soap operas or both. Sometimes the incomplete sentence, punctuated with a period, will better convey the the rhythm of speech than compound sentences strung together with commas.

(Short rant here: DO NOT LET SOAP OPERAS INFLUENCE YOUR WRITING, DO NOT LET THEM CREEP IN, DO NOT REFER IN YOUR MIND TO THEM. THE SOAP OPERA IS AN ENDLESS FORM. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO ARRIVE ANYWHERE. EVER. THE PURPOSE OF A SCENE IN A SOAP OPERA IS TO FILL UP TIME. THIS IS THE ANTITHESIS TO WHAT YOUR GOALS ARE IN WRITING FICTION.)

If you're unsure about comma use, it's a good time to whip out your dashes. Dashes have really foggy rules. You sort of can't be called on mis-using them because no one really knows how to use them. They work great in dialogue because people tend to speak in dashes, not in commas. (Shut up, they do. Listen.) When I used to write my first drafts with a pen, I used to make the dashes as long as I wanted the pause to last. (Sort of like musical notes.) Unfortunately, that doesn't work once you type stuff up, so I've broken myself of the habit.

Post Fri Aug 13, 2004 12:25 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
john palmer
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Re: punctuation  Reply with quote  

[quote="earthshoes"]Specifically, commas. I was just informed in a workshop that I used too many commas in a piece of flash fiction. I don't think I've ever been accused of that one before.

- Humble opinion: If it's not absolutely wrong in Strunk-ville, then it's your call. Different uses create different effects. Do you like the effect?


Cheers,

John Palmer

Post Fri Aug 13, 2004 4:32 pm   
earthshoes



Joined: 17 Jun 2004
Posts: 213
Location: SW Missouri
 Reply with quote  

Thanks everyone. Interestingly enough, I've already posted it in fan fiction. It's "The Coming".

It's good to hear I'm not the only one who deals with the question of commas. Everyone who has ever critiqued my work has seemed so much more sure of what to do with them. Especially the Canadians and the British.

I can relax now, I think, and just worry about writing.

Chris--I just went back and looked at my first completed attempt at a book. The recent discussions in this forum have illuminated several minor weaknesses with respect to the presentation of dialogue that I hadn't seen previously. Additionally, one of the things I've come to grips with is that it doesn't need a sequel and will stand on it's own. Soap Opera indeed.

Thank you. I'm nearing the stage of sending out query letters to agents and these edits only add to my confidence.

mary
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Post Sat Aug 14, 2004 6:24 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail AIM Address Yahoo Messenger
Lauren



Joined: 07 Mar 2004
Posts: 1582
Location: Massachusetts
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I really, really liked "The Coming". Liked it when you first posted it, and enjoyed it upon rereading to see whet the anti-comma brigade was on about. The commas set the pace and they're in appropriate places. Very good stuff, even and especially with the commas.
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Post Sat Aug 14, 2004 8:56 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address ICQ Number
john palmer
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Re: punctuation  Reply with quote  

earthshoes wrote:
Specifically, commas. I was just informed in a workshop that I used too many commas in a piece of flash fiction...
Anybody else given this any thought? I know it sounds nit-picky, but I'd like to lay this issue to rest.


I read your story and really liked it. It sounds like these people are pedantic about their commas without much idea about style, effect, etc. You're the writer.

Personally, I had no problem with the number of commas you were using. I have thought about such fquestions quite a lot, and made some detailed comments in the "comments" section if you're interested.

Great writing!


Cheers,

John Palmer

Post Sun Aug 15, 2004 8:11 pm   
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