1. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    Tips needed on how to find comma splices and run-on sentences in my own writing, please.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Elven Candy, May 10, 2019.

    I'm one of those people who can spot run-on sentences and comma splices in other people's books and is driven crazy by them, but in my own writing I seem to have them and not notice. When I wrote my completed short story, one of my beta readers found a lot of comma splices and run-on sentences--and that was after my punctuation edits. I think if the sentences reads to me the way I have that scene in my head, I don't notice the punctuation problems.

    I've never been strong with punctuation, so how do I keep myself from overlooking these things? For odd-ball things like semi-colons and m-dashes I can use the "find" feature and see if they work or can be deleted, but for commas and periods (and lack of) it's a whole lot trickier.

    One example I run into a lot is not knowing if a comma is necessary or optional, and if it's optional I don't know if I should I put it there or not. In my earlier statement "When I wrote my completed short story, one of my beta readers . . ." I don't know if that comma is necessary or optional.

    Thank you in advance!
     
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  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    You may find it easier to proofread your own work if you print it/display it in a different font, and/or read it out loud, and/or leave it for quite a while (a couple months, for me) to give you "fresh eyes" before you start to read it.

    In terms of knowing the rules re. optional commas - I'm with you! Sometimes it's just a question of the effect you're going for.
     
  3. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    As long as somebody's catching them.
     
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  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    This is the best site ever. This particular link explains comma splices in very clear terms, gives examples ...and then a group of exercises to spot comma splices.

    This is the best site I know to improve grammar without suffering pain.

    https://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/exercises/grammar/grammar_tutorial/page_07.htm
     
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  5. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    I don't want my beta readers to have to catch them, though. I want my stories to be well-written before I ask people to critique them.

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions! I knew you guys would help me out :D.
     
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  6. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Contributor Contributor

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    The tool 'pro-writing aid' identifies these potential issues, but not all of them. Might be worth a try, there is a free version.
     
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  7. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    @jannert I'm looking at that website now and their page on commas in particular is fantastic! I never quite understood why some introductory phrases had commas while others didn't, and they explain it very simply, with examples, like you said. Hopefully, with the suggestions on this thread, my poor beta readers won't be distracted by poor punctuation.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    This is a UK-based University site, so if you are from someplace else, there might be a couple of instances where things aren't the same. I remember there was one instance—I don't think it was a comma issue—but I can't remember what it was.

    The exercises available on that site are what really makes it for me. You answer the question, and then you click over to the right and it will tell you if your answer is right or wrong, and why. Very informative and interactive. By the time you've done the exercises a few times, you have it nailed.

    I'm formerly an American, who has lived nearly half her life in Scotland, but who writes American novels, set in the USA ...and uses American spellings and punctuation. A 'novel' dilemma indeed.

    The longer I live here, the more mixed up I become, between the British/American thing.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2019
  9. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Then what's the point of beta readers?
     
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  10. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    Some people may ask them for help specifically in punctuation and grammar, and I always welcome corrections I may have missed, but I'm trying to get my story as perfect in those as possible so that my readers aren't distracted by them and can instead focus on the things I really want feedback on, such as my characters and plot.
     
  11. Dr. Mambo

    Dr. Mambo Contributor Contributor

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    I wouldn't be caught dead sending a story with more than 2 accidental grammatical errors or typos to a beta. Betas tell you how the thing affects them emotionally--was it scary? believable? intense? Too much dialogue? Needs more action?--not whether you're capable of using written language correctly.

    @Elven Candy Always err on the side of fewer commas. The lack of a necessary comma is generally going to be less intrusive to a reader than the addition of an unnecessary one. I will personally stop reading a story or articles if there are too many unnecessary commas.
     
  12. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. I know people define these things differently, but I don't want my beta readers to be proofreaders. That's a different skill and a whole different mindset. (Hence the different name.) I'm with @Dr. Mambo on this one.

    If you want good reader feedback on your story flow, your characterisation, your story's believability, the effectiveness of the story's beginning, the satisfactory nature of the ending, etc ...don't saddle your beta readers with proofreading tasks as well. Give them your best effort. Proofread the thing to within an inch of its life, BEFORE you hand it out.

    If writers literally can't proofread accurately, they haven't yet mastered the tools of their trade. They need to work on improving their skills if they want to be taken seriously as writers.

    If they simply can't be bothered to proofread, well....

    Yeah, a few typos will sneak past, and it's nice if the beta catches them and points them out. But they should never be so frequent as to destroy immersion in the story.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
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  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    That's an interesting observation. I've just discovered, during the final beta reads of my novel, that I do tend to use commas more often than I probably need to. And yet—also interesting—one of my current (excellent) betas kept inserting commas (even more of them) while the other current (excellent) beta kept taking them out. Both were working on the same version of the story. :) I had to laugh a little.

    However, the differing opinions made me realise that my use of commas might be problematic. So I will keep an eye on commas when I do my final FINAL proofread and formatting for publication. Which, I hope, will happen fairly soon. This baby has been gestating a LONG time. It's time to be born....

    Old Dog=New Tricks. It's a learning curve through life, I reckon.
     
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  14. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Uncle! Supporter Contributor

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    Oh lord, @Homer Potvin once (accurately) accused me of having committed "comma bukkake." If you don't know the origin of the term, please don't google it, it's very very NSFW. But anyway @Elven Candy, I don't have any advice for you, but know that you're not alone in this. :(
     
  15. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Sure... or they could be dyslexic. It happens on occasion.
     
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  16. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, yes, of course. Sorry. I didn't think of that. A dyslexic writer will probably need a professional proofreader ...or a very dedicated beta.

    I was thinking more in terms of people who want to write but who haven't—but still could—learned to master SPAG.

    Dyslexic people need a lot of help with written text. It's great that's a condition that schools now recognise. For so many years, those students were just labeled 'slow.' What frustration they must have felt! I know several people who struggled with this, and it was indeed a struggle. Some have gone on to be very successful, while others never quite got over being labeled a failure, and still lack confidence in their own abilities. Such a bloody waste of human potential.

    Anyway, sorry. I didn't think that through very well, did I? If somebody approached me as a beta reader and told me they were dyslexic, of course I'd be more than happy to work on SPAG issues with them.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
  17. Dr. Mambo

    Dr. Mambo Contributor Contributor

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    I think certainly when a comma is optional it's hard to feel out what to do. My personal comma demon is the word "too" at the end of a sentence.

    The comma goes there, too.
    The comma goes there too.

    I've seen it done both ways in popular fiction. My own preference is to put it in there, but some sentences feel clunky with it, and then I get to this place where I'm using it sometimes and not all the time and the lack of consistency makes me crazy.
     
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  18. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. The difference between the 'rule' and the way it actually reads is sometimes quite radical. Especially in fiction, where you can bend the rules a bit.
     
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  19. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    A more genteel way to put it would be 'sprinkles commas around like salt and pepper.'
     
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  20. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

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    Well the man does live in Japan, so....
     
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  21. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I find that throwing my story into a text to speech engine and having it read to me makes it easy to figure out where sentences are too long. I don't care whether my writing style is technically correct, I care more that it flows naturally and the only way to really know if it does to to hear it aloud.
     
  22. Necronox

    Necronox Contributor Contributor

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    That's actually a brilliant idea I've never thought of. Need to find a good speech engine. Know of any?
     
  23. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Another similar method (although far more embarrassing) is to ask another person to read it out loud. You'll notice where they stumble, stutter, go back and start again, etc.
     
  24. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    This can be be useful too, but I prefer the text to speech because the human mind tends to read what it thinks is there, not what's actually there.... did you notice where I repeated "be"?
     
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  25. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    No, I didn't notice! :)
     

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