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Everybody knows all the rules about comma usage, right? If not, check out my links.

Not everybody knows the accepted exceptions to the rules. I sure don’t.

Can these rules be broken? I hope so; because I’m breaking them. I will argue there are siutations where rules can be and maybe should be broken. Ernest Hemmingway is rather famous for omitting commas, and while arguing he may never be published today may have some legitimacy, I personally am glad he broke the rules.

I found while editing my current work that I too was breaking rules. It wasn’t all intentional either. I wrote from character, and that’s the way it landed on the page. I think I do know most of the rules, and I was suprised I broke so many rules.

My main character is a painter, a retired art teacher now pursuing her dream to paint full time, more or less. There are bigger plot lines I won’t discuss. She’s a bit stressed and anxious, and she may also be somewhat confused. I’ve intended her as an unreliable character. The result is sometimes fast talking or a loose stream of consciousness.

In my first example she talks about her past and her experiences teaching kids. In the second example she discusses painting a class portrait each year.

In the first example, the second sentence reads more emphatically than the first because of the omitted comma. My mind said it should read fast, and it does. Adding a comma slows it down. By the way, the first sentence is not really a comma splice. The introductory clause appears as an independant clause but it is a thought, an equivalent of dialogue. If it was wrapped in quotes, you would think the comma perfect. If you want, read it aloud then change the punctuation and read it aloud again.

You don’t get something for nothing, I told them. You give me your attention and I’ll give you a world to explore.

The second example omits the commas in the list and replaces the first with an and: this and this and that. It reads fast and hopefully imparts a sense of urgency and chaos.

I painted an expressionist painting of my class, trying to focus on their one redeeming quality, which usually meant big happy faces; though many times I was tempted to paint what I really felt: a room full of demon possessed animals. I ignored all the negatives and painted the smiles and laughter and *common interactions.

I say learn the rules, but don’t be afraid to break them when the voices demand it!

*I don’t like common interactions and is a phrase I’ve marked for change

 

Links:

http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/
http://www.writingcentre.uottawa.ca/hypergrammar/comma.html
http://www.ebstc.org/newsletter/0509/Article_4.htm
http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/write-like-the-masters-excerpt
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-218517.html

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