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Monday Classroom: Those squiggly little bast—um, The Comma

The comma causes more torn out hair and gnashed teeth. You may remember what I told you in a post below, Kat’s Picky Sh*t, how I see commas as pauses and as grouper-togetherers.

I’m not the perfect Comma Momma (teeheehee), so I do invite you to use the links below to learn allllllllll about those tiny little trouble-makers. Because, really, there is simply too much information about that little teeny bitty itty squiggle than I can place here in one post without tearing out my own hair. In fact, that teeny bitty itty squiggle’s size is deceiving, for it makes Big Arse Trouble for so many out there, and not only writers.

Thing is, folks, it really is not so difficult once you Pay Attention to what you are writing and how the sentence “flows” and the rhythm of your words/sentences. I’ve written those two words before: Pay Attention. Because when you do, you learn. As I write this post, I am using commas without thinking about it. If this were my novel, I’d go in and remove some of my commas to make sure everything sings along musically to where there are not a lot of choppy sentences that leave the reader’s brain squeezing–or maybe I just want to leave the reader a bit breathless. When you Pay Attention, you begin to see how the comma interacts with your work. How the comma sets things off. How the comma groups things together and/or separates them. How it considers the natural pause—where you take that bit of a hitch of a breath after an introductory phrase.

Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use, feel free to play around with it.

Sometimes I leave out commas where Grammar says they belong because I want to keep the sentence moving along without any pauses as if one is talking all at once and does not pause even to take a breath because they are in OMG OMG OMG mode *gasp for air* . . . folks, use this sparingly or else your readers’ eyes may fall out and follow someone to the door, and in fact, their eyes may not return for many a week because you simply exhausted them and they needed a long long vacation and I think I am doing it again, oh dear! *Eyes falling out of my head and traveling to the door, suitcase in hand (hand? Do eyes have hands? Well, if we’re dropping them out of their sockets and giving them a suitcase, guess they best.).*

Consider the sentence above as an example of a pause.

(Introduction) Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use (a natural pause) feel free to play around with it.

Now read that sentence aloud with and without the comma and decide for yourself what happens:

Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use feel free to play around with it—does saying this aloud without a pause make you feel rushed or a bit breathless?

Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use, feel free to play around with it—does the natural pause here give you a chance to hitch in a breath?

If you think, “Well I like both ways.” Fine, go ye to write it how it works for you! I tell you this, though: when I’m reading something that doesn’t have commas where I like them to be, I insert them myself. Yeah! I do! Ha! You can’t escape my Comma-ndo! Alternatively, if you place a comma where I do not like it, I pluck it off the page and pinch off its wittle head (okay, now I feel bad. I won’t pinch off its wittle head. But I’ll do something! Yeah . . . something. . . huhn.).

Though, again, there are times I leave out commas because I want the sentence to move along without a pause. I don’t want the sentence to be broken up or choppy. But when I catch myself pausing after that “introduction,” I add a comma. Because. “Because whyyyyy, Kat?” Because I said so, that’s why.

The comma separates incomplete sentences—another form of a “pause” – like a parentheses.

Kathryn has, and always has had, a tiny pea-head. Kathryn has (pause to say/qualify: and always will have) a tiny pea-head.

Kathryn has—that’s an incomplete sentence that is separated by “and always has had” and then another incomplete sentence “a tiny pea-head” – I paused in the middle of those two phrases to tell you something else. I used commas to pause. Bless my wittle tiny pea-headed brain.

What you don’t want to do is go sticking commas everywhere willy nilly. Those commas, small as they may be, will chop up your sentence and make them read stoooopid. Do you want choppy stoooopid sentences? Of course not! I’d rather see fewer commas than a litter of them crawling around all over the page mewling and making a mess all over creation. Listen to the rhythm of your words/the language. Listen for those pauses. Those parenthetical pauses. Those introductory phrases that then lead to a little hitch of breath before going on to the next part of the sentence. That’s where the comma goes.

Commas as lists or grouper-togetherers:

I like cornbread, cookies, beans and ice cream. But I do not like this sentence—ewwww! (Intro)If you want beans in your ice-cream, (pause/hitch breath) go right ahead.

But I do like the serial—not cereal—comma. Although wouldn’t that be cute? A bowlful of punctuation-shaped cereal for grammarians/writers? Haw! *Kat considers giving up novel-writing to create a Punctuation Cereal and becoming a millionaire* Anyway, *back to reality, Kat* the serial comma makes sense in the world of grouper-togetherers.

I like cornbread, cookies, beans, and ice cream.

See how each list of food has its own place in the sentence world?

I like cornbread. I like cookies. I like beans. I like ice cream.

is not:

I like cornbread. I like cookies. I like beans and ice cream. Ewwwwww!

I can also do a grouping, thusly,

I like cornbread and beans, cookies and ice cream, and serial commas. Teehee.

Notice above how each little family of words has their own little neat home to live in. Their own little grouping. The items that go together are placed together. Those that do not go together are separated by commas. The comma keeps things neatly packaged that should be neatly packaged together. The comma separates what doesn’t belong in the same package.

Clear as the mud on the bottom of your boot, ain’t it? Or maybe you are beginning to understand. Maybe I am a Geeeeenius at explaining the teeny tiny wittle cutie squiggly and suddenly the clouds are clearing and you shout EUREKA! and you name your dog after me or something. *Kat has dreamy expression thinking of puppies running around named “Kat” because that sounds contradictory and funny haw haw haw—at least to her pea-headed brain it does—stop judging me!*

Look folks, here’s the thing: commas are irritating little shitters and they always will be. I mean, geeeezzzz, I have a headache just trying to explain them. And even as I type these words for this post, I worry I will miss one or I’ll place one in the wrong spot. I’ll be in a hurry and someone out there will gloat and scream how I messed up. Ungh!  I’ll go back and read this and think, “This could be better.” But isn’t that the Thang about writing? How we always should be growing and learning? How we should think: “This could be better,” and then we make it better—until it is Done, for at some point we must be Done, right?

Below are two grammar sites that talk about the comma and may be a better help to you than my pea-headed self. I invite you to visit and to study their contents. Pay Attention. When your AHA! moment comes, you may then begin to manipulate the language with Knowledge, and folks, that’s when the real fun begins.

These have a whole-lotto comma madness—lawd!

Guide to Grammar & writing—rules for comma use: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm

Grammar Girl—an entire page of links on commas, oh yes. Pick your poison: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/SearchResults.aspx?cx=018137038020134942690:bivmuxgubrq&cof=FORID:11&ie=UTF-8&sa=Search&safe=active&q=comma

see y’all on Wednesday Free-for-All!

Monday Classroom: Strengthening our Manuscripts. Kat’s Picky Sh*t

Some things bother me that do not bother other people. But I am right. *laughing*

These picky persnickities stick in my craw and I have to dislodge them. I only wish I could go back to my previously published works, before I knew better, and eradicate the picky sh*t I am now picky over. Although, the sneakies do still tiptoe in, because it is so ingrained into our speech. Such as:

She found herself in the bedroom. She did? That sounds like some sci-fi novel/movie. You mean she went into the bedroom and only to see another version of her? A clone? How fascinating that she could actually, literally, find herself in her bedroom. That would freak me out. I don’t want any more Me’s running around. Huhn. One of me is enough–just ask GMR.

And speaking of “literally.” If I say, “I literally typed my fingers to the bones!” Then one would expect to see my wittle hands sprouting nubs. No, I figuratively typed my fingers to bones, perhaps, but never literally—though sometimes I do worry this nub-state shall occur.

He woke with a smile on his face. Well, where else would a smile be? On his butt? The only place we have a smile is on our face, so we can strike out three words by writing/saying: He woke with a smile. We can also wonder what he’s smiling about. If he’s your partner/spouse, then maybe you should worry, hmmm. Just what, or who, was he dreaming of? Hmmmmm.

She thought to herself, why is Steven smiling this morning? Is he thinking of that redhead in the coffee shop? Why, I oughta . . . Who else would she think to? She can only think to herself, unless you are writing about mind-readers. Thinking to oneself is understood. If you strike out the “to herself” then you’d be rid of a couple more words. Booyah!

I like my ellipses to have three spaces . . . like that. Notice as well the space before and after . . . see? If there aren’t spaces…then I feel things are too crowded…stop, I need space . . . thank you. Now, up until recently, very recently, I did not like the extra ‘dot’ at the end of a sentence with ellipses, but I have to admit it is correct when you consider that the ellipses are meant to stand in for a word (or phrase), and at the end of a sentence there is always punctuation. So . . . .

Did you know when we use the word “hopefully” that we are often using it incorrectly? Instead of me explaining this, I will direct you to Grammar Girl’s explanation. Hopefully (haha just kidding) — I hope you will read and learn.

And finally! Long live the Oxford Comma! The serial comma. I love boots, kittens, and cheesecake. Why would I ever write: I love boots, kittens and cheesecake. Unless I do like kitten cheesecake, or there is some other reason to “group” the kittens and cheesecake as one entity or one grouping. Try it by saying it with a pause: I love boots (comma/pause) kittens (comma/pause) and cheesecake. Now the other way: I love boots (comma/pause) kittens and cheesecake. Ungh! Second way bugs me. Ungh!

I see commas as two things: pauses and grouper-togetherers. I believe I will write up a post just on The Comma. It seems this is a passionate debate, but as I wrote above: I am right. *laugh*

That is enough for today. I need to finish my scouring of Family Graces before I send it back to the editor. She didn’t mark much (yay!), but I consider this another opportunity to look over the manuscript to see if any of the sneakity sneakers (as in the examples I place here) have sneaked into my manuscript while I wasn’t looking. They do, you know. No matter how many times I’ve read it, or others have read it, the sneakity sneakers are danged ole sneaky.

One last thing: things never flood my mind. What about you? 

(photos taken by Kat Magendie at Lake Junaluska, Waynesville, North Carolina)

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