Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The sound of commas by RM Greenaway


A few thoughts on punctuation, rather than grammar -- mostly the comma.

To me, writers can punctuate however they want, as long as the story moves along and is clear.

There does seem to be a trend in the books I've been picking up lately, though, where the meaning isn't as clear as it could be, and that's because so many useful commas are being left out. That's the case with the novel I'm reading now, in fact. And it's not just a typo here and there. It's throughout, and it's annoying.

I've seen this lack of commas in many books -- and in my own too, after a copy editor has gone through and deleted them -- so I wonder if it's some new standard followed by the industry. If so, why? Why take out perfectly good commas that seem to fall naturally into place and guide the reader along?

As an example of the kind of structure I'm talking about, I made up this sentence: "He saw that she was eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich and wished he had one as well."
Wouldn't you pause after "sandwich"? Wouldn't that sound more natural?

Whatever the rules or style books say, it seems to me that cadence should dictate where a pause comes in.

Tonight I went and watched some live stand-up comedians on stage. They were very funny, but where would they be without cadence? Booed off the stage, that's where.

In the big picture, who cares where the commas go or don't go? Well, a writer should care, when it comes to his or her own work, and I do. I care deeply about my commas. In the beginning I didn't have the nerve to disagree with those particular edits made to my books, but I'm learning to take a stand. Those are my commas, after all, stuck there for a reason.

I'll keep an open mind to this new style of punctuating -- maybe in the end I won't be given the option -- but I don't think I'll ever be convinced it's the way to go.

What's your view on this new trend, if that's what it is?


RJ Harlick said...

I like my commas, too, RM. So lets keep doing it.

Susan C Shea said...

Cadence! Yes, that's an excellent reason for commas. We're on the same team. Too bad editors generally aren't.

Unknown said...

Ah good, so it's not just me. Go team!