1. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    That comma is unnecessary

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by yagr, Aug 27, 2014.

    I'd love to give a concrete example, but without voice inflection I'm afraid doing so is just going to muddy the waters. So here I go trying to explain without an example:

    Often I'll use a comma in one place or another, and someone will come along and say something like, "Oh, you don't need a comma there." Then they'll go on to read the sentence and announce, "See, no pause."

    That's not how I intended the sentence to read. I intended to have a pause there. It's my character's voice. He may not speak exactly the way you do, or put emphasis the same places that you do - but he is not wrong to do so. I put comma's in (amongst other reasons) to show where the pauses are, not to have someone ignore them and change the nature and meaning of the sentence.

    So what do you do? How do you keep editors from correcting non-errors?
     
  2. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Commas are the editor's nemesis. Seriously, there is more debate about comma usage than any other mark of punctuation. Take a glance in The Chicago Manual of Style, and you will see the pages and pages of recommendations for the comma.

    The trouble is that commas can change the meaning of a sentence; they can change a sentence from restrictive to nonrestrictive. Hmm ... I wrote an example of this in another thread yesterday. Well, here's another for this thread:

    The ball belonged to the dog, that had just arrived from the pound.

    This sentence says that there is one dog, and he just arrived from the pound. See that? Now compare that to this:

    The ball belonged to the dog that had just arrived from the pound.

    Now, we have multiple dogs, but the ball only belongs to the one who just arrived from the pound, not the others who arrived from someplace else.

    Here's another example of how a comma can change the meaning of a sentence. (This one I didn't come up with. It's kinda well known but illustrates the point perfectly.)

    Let's eat, Grandpa!
    Let's eat Grandpa!

    The first sentence is someone inviting Grandpa to eat. The second is someone inviting his friends to eat Grandpa himself.

    Editors will not remove punctuation unless it messes with clarity. We are taught that in school. If it's superfluous but non harmful, we leave it as the author has written it. It's rare to change anything in dialogue unless there is an error with mechanics. Grammatical errors remain in dialogue in most cases, because that's how people talk. If you have a good editor, he or she will recognize when the comma is needed to illustrate your character.
     
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  3. Jaro
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    Jaro Active Member

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    This is something I've been fighting with for a long time. Especially when it comes to a character's dialog. I had asked a friend to read one of the first stories I had written a while back. It was roughly around 5-6,000 word or so, and featured a massive amount of spoken dialog. She took it upon herself to 'correct my mistakes' through the entire story, removing every comma she thought was unnecessary. You can't do that. It's one thing if it is an actual mistake, but sometimes a comma in the wrong place is supposed to be there.
     
  4. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    I could upgrade examples forever I suppose, but here's one:

    “So, you're interested in the martial arts,” came a voice from behind me.

    “So you're interested in the martial arts,” came a voice from behind me.

    If I'm looking at you and we're involved in a conversation already, I'm probably going to speak like this second example. Of course, if I'm already engaged in a conversation with you, my voice won't be coming from behind you...but whatever. If I'm coming up behind you and giving you time to acknowledge my presence and realize that it's you that I'm speaking to, I'm probably going to pause after the word 'so' to give you a chance to turn and confirm that I'm speaking to you.

    I'm sure there are much better examples I could find, but felt compelled to give one.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In creative writing, commas can be used (or not used) to create a desired effect. Other than cases like the Grandpa example given by Kat and punctuation standards regarding dialogue, it's really up to the writer to decide. This goes for all punctuation really. For example, consider the passage below. It comes from Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, and it shows you the difference between leaving in punctuation (periods in this case) and taking it out (periods replaced by "and"). The long sentence in the middle is perfect for describing the train rushing past the character; because of the lack of punctuation, the reader doesn't pause when reading it, which is exactly what McCarthy wanted. I've posted this example several times on this forum before, so it may seem familiar to some of you.

     
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  6. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Beautiful example, Thirdwind, and well said, too.

    Question marks are often left off of questions when the tone does not call for the rise in voice a question demands. "Can't we just drop it," she asked dismally. Additionally, punctuation is overused, too, particularly ellipsis points (I really mean "suspension points" but most people know them by the name "ellipsis points," so we'll just go with that for now) and exclamation marks. The thing that most drives an editor to the bottle is when authors use multiple pieces of ending punctuation in conjunction. "You did what!?!" There is a name for this now, (interrobang) but as of right now, if you do this in your text, your editor will take it out. It is currently incorrect. I have seen no immediate sign of this changing, either.

    Oh, and that reminds me: editors do not set out to be mean. Often, editors don't even get to make their own decisions about such things as optional punctuation use. Large publishers will either have compiled their own individual house style that their editors must adhere to, or the editor is told to follow the recommendation as set by one of the various guides already in existence. It is not an editor's desire to make your life difficult. We actually mean to help you.
     
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  7. HoraceCombs
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    HoraceCombs Member

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    I think you should read the proper punctuation rules, you may have confusions about putting punctuations. And yes in creative writing commas are used.
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I admit, I'd stick a comma there. When I read these, I didn't actually hear any specific pause in either of them. The latter just sticks out to me 'cause I want to ram a comma between so and you're.

    It seems to me there are some more or less fixed rules about comma usage, some dictated by syntax, some by the desired meaning. To me they aren't such an important tool I'd mind it if the editor threw them around, unless it changed the meaning of the sentence. Like, I really did mean they would eat the grandpa, not urge him to eat with them.

    The comma rules are intensely rigid in my mother-tongue, so it's a breath of fresh air, really, to get some leeway with the English language, so in that sense I understand you wanting to moon at the rules every now and then. I guess you'll just have to make your case, and if it's shot down, decide whether or not you want to make a big deal out of one comma.
     
  9. Jakv6
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    Jakv6 Member

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    Hey there, Kat. I may be wrong, but if you choose to use the comma there, you should be using 'which' and not 'that'. It is a non-essential relative clause, which may not use 'that'. <--this is also a non-essential relative clause.
    As has already been discussed, commas are essential in some places, and optional in others. <-- this is an example of an 'optional' comma.
    Most of the time, if you are using a comma simply to indicate a pause, and not because of some other grammatical reason, you're probably going to be wrong. Pauses can be suggested using ellipses for 'tailing-off' pauses, or dashes for 'sudden' pauses.
    An in-depth example:
    In modern usage, when writing direct speech, the comma after someone's name is sometimes omitted:
    "Hello Jeremy."
    Traditionally, a comma is called for in this situation:
    "Hello, Jeremy."
    There is almost no difference in pronunciation, and zero difference in meaning. To give a pause, try an ellipsis:
    "Hello...Jeremy..."
    Now we are suggesting that the speaker does not like Jeremy, or does not believe that Jeremy is really Jeremy. A dash s also possible here:
    "Hello - Jeremy!"
    The person did not expect to see Jeremy at this time. Perhaps they were expecting someone else.

    Hope this helps someone.

    J
     
  10. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd agree with thirdwind. Despite formal correctness, if it serves your ends appropriately, creating a pace or atmosphere that you want, them pump them bitches in as needed. Just be sure that each pause wouldn't occur already, simply due to the structure of the sentence.
     
  11. Michaelson345
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    Michaelson345 Member

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    No, comma's or punctuation marks are not unnecessary it gives meaning to your sentences, so that you can understand it in a proper manner which the writer wants to express in their story.
     
  12. Joshua A
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    Joshua A Member

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    Reading this has inspired a slight hope about my 'excessive' comma use. That is something that one of my old...mentors...told me. I use mentor lightly, not sure what to call him. But I was told that I used commas too much in dialogue that I needed to indicate a pause - a pause that a dash couldn't do...or ellpsis, because each created a pause that, though nice, was not what I wanted. <--- Hopefully my use of each of the three demonstrated why I say that! The dash was very sudden, a PAUSE(1 Mississippi..)continue. The ellipsis was gradual, a pause(1 misssssissssipppppiiii). Whereas the comma was just a slight pause, (1 missi) a brief break.

    That is how I use punctuation, but I had a lot of people telling me I was straight-up wrong. Not sure if I am justified or not, but, this thread gives me some hope!
     

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