The Battle of Comma Hill

Man, the last time I was having aneurysms like this over a copy-edit, it was because somebody was going after my semicolons. Now it’s my commas, which I sprinkle liberally throughout my writing, in defiance of the rules of grammar but service to the flow and pacing of a sentence.

I’m literally having bargaining sessions with myself. “If you let him delete the comma in that sentence, you can fight back for the pair in this one. Come on. It’s okay. Do you know how many of your readers will notice the presence or lack of a comma there? NONE.”

But I’m a reader! And I notice! the little voice cries back.

Step away from the commas, honey. Save your energy for dying upon the hill of I Want Those To Be A Compound Sentence, Dammit, Not Two Separate Sentences.

It’s pathetic but true: writers do spend their time and energy obsessing about such things.

0 Responses to “The Battle of Comma Hill”

  1. sora_blue

    Good luck

    I suffer from “Stop Combing My Fragments I Put Them There For A Pacing Reason.”

    • Marie Brennan

      Sometimes copy-editors go overboard with their helpfulness. My current situation isn’t one of those, but combining fragments willy-nilly? Yeah. Leave the style alone, kthxbye.

  2. milbrcrsan

    I’ve never had a real editor, however, I did call my lit teacher it. (She went through my stories while in High School) There were times where I just wanted get up, go outside, and take a breather. I found that sometimes when you’re trying to explain a certain situation or why that is there instead of this. :p I was horrible at commas…still am really. lol Too bad I can’t afford to go to a lit class in college. *sigh*

    • milbrcrsan

      Blah. I messed up.

      *I found that sometimes when you’re trying to explain a certain situation or why that is there instead of this can be frustrating. Especially when she wasn’t understanding. :p

    • Marie Brennan

      A lit class in college wouldn’t help. I’ve had to teach remedial grammar to a lot of students over the years because they didn’t pick it up in grade school, and after that nobody bothered; they assume you already know. All my correction has been a one-on-one thing.

      • milbrcrsan

        Oh, I see. As I had said, I’m not that bad, but some punctuation gets me. :p

      • tooth_and_claw

        I have this problem. I know many of the rules form reading osmosis, but I know NONE of the terms. I still don’t know what a participle is. Or is I even spelled that right. It makes learning a foreign language difficult, because they use technical grammar terms to describe translation equivalents in English. I’m sure I could absorb Congiuntivo better if I knew what a Conjuctive is.

        • Marie Brennan

          Honestly, that’s how I learned grammar — by learning another language. Studying Latin taught me more about how English works than English class ever did.

          (Yes, you spelled it right, and a participle is a form of a verb used as an adjective. So “used” is the past participle of “use,” and “using” is the present participle. English makes this way muddier than Romance languages tend to, because often the forms of words overlap; “used” is also the past tense, and “using” is also the gerund — it can be the noun as well as adjective form of the verb. [e.g. Using grammar correctly is hard!])

  3. m_stiefvater

    Oh dear. I’m hoping copyedits aren’t going to be too painful. I take considerable liberties with the English language.

    • Marie Brennan

      Copyedits range from fantastic to apocalyptically bad, depending on the copy-editor. Some of them seem to expect fiction to be precisely grammatical all the time (hah!); others do things that are just wrong in any case ( told a horror story about one who went through and changed all the present-tense verbs in her academic discussion of fantasy authors to past tense, in flagrant contravention of that genre of writing). Then you get one like my copy-editor for “Nine Sketches, in Charcoal and Blood,” who had a fabulous ear for the story’s voice and helped me get those last few sentences perfectly into tune.

      It’s a crap-shoot, really.

  4. octavia_b

    I tend to find that English English is far fonder and more forgiving of comma usage than American English. If I were you I’d fight for every last one of them. They’re far too underused. 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      Eh, I try not to be obnoxious about such things, since it’s important to maintain good relations with an editor, and acting like a prima donna isn’t the way to do that. But I fought for the ones that I really felt strongly about, and gave in on the ones that mattered less.

  5. desperance

    Yup. All of that.

    If you have to go to war in defence of your commas, I’ve got your back.

  6. booniecat

    I can relate…I love commas. And as a reader, I do notice and wonder why/why not there are commas in certian places. Since I read outloud to my husband, commas (to me) are an integral part to getting my pacing and inflections right. But, I go around and around with my command over commas and semi colon – oh, rue the day that I got a boss who is not a supporter of the oxford comma!

Comments are closed.