In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: The Ornery Little Comma
* Of Interest
* The Numbers
Quote of the Day
“The euphoria of self-publishing has worn off. … eBook Publishing, in general, seems to have stabilized.” Emily Harstone for AuthorsPublish.
This is good news for those of us for whom writing and self-publishing is part of a business plan instead of a get-rich-quick scheme to make a quick buck.
Topic: The Ornery Little Comma
Note: I wrote this topic to fill a rotation slot in the PWW blog later this month, but I thought I’d share it with you today.
There’s been much ado lately online about comma use. When to use them, where to use them, how to use them. I even read a blog post recently by a New York Times bestselling thriller author who admitted he didn’t have a clue as to when to use a comma.
So I thought I’d make a brief post here on comma use. I call them “ornery” because for all their apparent insignificance, you can’t simply “read through” a misplaced comma.
Like all other marks of punctuation, the comma forces the reader to pause for a certain length of time. That pause is hard-wired into the reader’s brain.
Unlike all the other marks of punctuation, the comma forces the shortest pause. And that’s why the “rules” you heard in school were written the way they were.
Every reader has a standard length of time that s/he pauses for long-pause punctuation (period, question mark, exclamation point and colon); medium length punctuation (semicolon and em dash or “long” dash); and short-pause punctuation (the comma).
As an aside, I call the other marks of punctuation “spelling punctuation,” because they don’t force a pause at all: those are the parentheses or brackets (though you would probably never use brackets in fiction), the en dash, the apostrophe and the quotation mark.
Folks generally know when and where to use long-pause punctuation (only after a subject-verb complete thought).
Medium-pause punctuatiion is always used to convey cause-and-effect (semicolon) or to indicate an interruption or explain why the reader just read a list (em dash). Most writers tend to understand those as well.
But the comma gives writers endless problems. And no wonder.
In the edition of the Harbrace College Handbook that was in use when I was teaching in the early 1990s, there were 19 pages of comma rules. Seriously?
Here are what I termed “The Rules As They Should Read” regarding comma use to pare things down a bit. As I told my students back then, if you follow these rules, you will be “right” 90% of the time, and a 90 is an A in anybody’s book:
1. Never place a comma between a subject and its verb(s) or between a verb and its object(s). (Realize that a subject may have more than one verb and that a verb may have more than one object. See Chapter 7, Punctuation for Writers. paperback or ebook.)
2. When a subordinate clause introduces an independent clause, separate the two with a comma. (If you aren’t sure about clauses, Rule #2 is an example of itself, as is this explanation. Also, see the discussion about clauses in Chapter 7.)
3. Do not use a comma to separate the clauses when a subordinate clause follows an independent clause. (In Rule #3, “Do not use a comma” is an independent clause and the remainder is a dependent clause. This rule, again, is an example of itself.)
4. Use a comma before the appropriate coordinating conjunction to join two related sentences. (The coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Remember the acronym FANBOYS.) By the way, you very seldom need a comma after a coordinating conjunction.
5. Trite as it sounds, when you are in doubt about whether to use a comma, leave it out. Believe it or not, most comma problems arise from the misuse of commas, not their omission.
When you’re writing fiction, the rules are less important than the effect the punctuation will have on the reader. Take Rule 4 (above) for example. Although you should most often use a comma to separate and coordinate two (or more) independent thoughts in a compound sentence, sometimes it’s better not to do so.
In every case, if you insert a comma, you will force the reader to pause. If you don’t, you won’t. So use the comma (or not) to force the effect you want.
Punctuation is the most effective tool you have at your disposal to direct the reading of your work.
Hope this helps. I’m open for questions. (grin)
Rolled out a little early at 2 this morning and spent some time on this and other things. Slipped back into my old habit of not turning to the WIP until after my wife left for work.
Even on days when I don’t post a Journal entry, I’m keeping up with the numbers below. There you can follow the progress on the WIP if you’re interested.
This morning I have to wrap a few gifts, and that will fill the time before I go to the post office. (I’m all thumbs where gift-wrap and tape is involved.)
Then I’ll deal with whatever comes of my trip to the post office, and then turn to the WIP. Fortunately, it’s running well right now, so it should be a good writing day.
Well, not quite as good a writing day as I was hoping, but the need to get at least 1000 words of fiction continues to drive me to the computer. So there’s that.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Writer Delusion” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/writer-delusion/.
See “How Women Authors Are Reshaping the Horror Genre” at https://crimereads.com/writing-crime-as-a-woman/.
See “First Page Critique – Hell Hath No Fury” at https://killzoneblog.com/2019/12/first-page-critique-hell-hath-no-fury.html.
Via Linda Maye Adams, see Dave Farland’s “Temporal Motion” at https://mystorydoctor.com/temporal-motion/.
See “The 10 Major Publishing Trends of 2019” at https://www.authorspublish.com/the-10-major-publishing-trends-of-2019/. Grain of salt, especially as regards subsidy publishers by any name. They are not “self-publishers” but scams. Every one of them.
See the last few posts in Pro Writer Writing at http://prowriterswriting.com/. Almost always good stuff there.
Fiction words today…………………… 1905
Nonfiction words today…………… 1o10 (Journal)
Writing of Ice Scream Novel (placeholder title)
Brought forward…… 4416 words
Day 1…… 1047 words. Total words to date…… 5463
Day 2…… 2254 words. Total words to date…… 7717
Day 3…… 1196 words. Total words to date…… 8913
Day 4…… 2972 words. Total words to date…… 11885
Day 5…… 1592 words. Total words to date…… 13477
Day 6…… 2705 words. Total words to date…… 16182
Day 7…… 1905 words. Total words to date…… 18087
Total fiction words for the month……… 15523
Total fiction words for the year………… 413088
Total nonfiction words for the month… 7070
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 310330
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 723418
Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 10
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 44
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 197
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31