Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Comma Addict

My junior high grammar teacher, Mrs. Friedrich, was the toughest teacher that I ever had and she is still one of my favorites. Maybe that is why I am so ashamed at my abusive comma use. She would be appalled if she every got her hands on my current WIP.

See, I am a comma over-user. I know there is a time and a place for commas. I know how to use them properly. However, I write like I speak and I pause a lot when I speak. So for my first draft (that is allowed to be terrible by nature of it being the first draft), I have gone comma crazy. There are commas in all the places I would pause, which is a lot of places.

I took the first chapter of my new project to my critique group and, sure enough, someone noted that many of my commas needed to go. I usually take things to my critique group that are highly polished, but this was a new idea and I wanted to see if the concept worked more than anything.

My point? When you are writing your first draft, it is okay if it is terrible. It is supposed to be terrible. Then you finish and you start editing. You remove the superfluous commas or cut your other atrocious grammar offenses. The story gets tightened up and redundancies are de-duplicated. After a lot of grueling revision sessions, your manuscript develops a beautiful rosy glow.

Maybe then, and only then, I will have something that I could show to Mrs. Friedrich.

Are you guilty of committing grammar faux-pas? Tell me about your worst first draft offenses.


  1. That's so very weird that you'd mention commas. I was just conteomating commas this week. No joke I read Cormac "The Road" McCarthy,and the guy uses a comma infrequently, skipping the punctuation that "blocks up the page" as often as he can. Whole pages with no commas! "The horse came down from the levee and drank all its drink and ate some wild oats before the stallion ever saw it standing there shining in the black coat in Texas sun." That's a typical Cormac line--AllThe Pretty Horses--and I bet you could wedge at least two, if not three, commas in there.

    Then I get to reading Salinger, A Perfect Day For Bananafish, and the guy uses commas like cupie dolls at the county fair. He has two commas per sentence almost as a mandate. "Muriel answered the phone, demure, engaging, and left the cigarettes, a hard habit for her, on the kitchen table while, in a state of bliss, Seymour headed for the beach." It's very casual, very "like speech." Which is better? I'll say, Cormac has faster flow, and is more "artsy" without punctuation, but Salinger, known for his voice, is more real. More authentic. I was just pondering this the other night, Laura.

  2. I took a writing class at the local community college about ten years ago, and the professor said she found my writing strong, but that I didn;t use enough contractions. Every sentence was "It will never come to pass, I cannot do it.", rathe than "It'll never come to pass, I can't do it." She was dead on right. And now, to achieve the tone I want, I am always thinking about the formality of wyat I am writing, and particularly with dialogue, I use contractions. That is , or should I say was, my faux pas.

    (PS This does not count toward my 250 words, dear Laura).

  3. Commas are my Achilles heel, too. If commas were confetti, I'd be invited to an awful lot of weddings.

  4. Along with the occasional missing apostrophe :)