I’m not much of a grammar buff. In fact, I hated, hated, hated diagramming sentences in school. *insert shudder* In fact, despite the A’s I got from a talent for guessing correct answers, I never knew with certainty what a direct object, indirect object, etc. was, until I studied German.
(Yep, I would actually translate my sentences into German to find the direct object for English class. Y’all already know I’m weird, so I’ll just let it all hang out here. )
Commas are a bit of a pet peeve of mine. If you have a sit in the grammar section of the bookstore, it’s fun to look through the books on comma rules. The ’experts’ will tell you there are anywhere between two to forty-two rules about the use of the comma. Me? I side with the two-rule camp.
Commas are something I never get right on the first run-through. In fact, I have to go through my whole manuscript at the end, just to take out a bunch of commas. (And insert a few, sadly.)
I primarily write for online readers. An editor at Ellora’s Cave once confirmed what I had suspected to be true for a long time: online reading begs the use of less commas than paper reading. She didn’t expand on that, but I remember wanting to record her words and send them to one of my editors.
I hate reading stories that feel like an eighth grade English teacher punctuated them. Commas are definitely a rhythm thing, and liberal use of the comma can cause stilted flow. You know I’m obsessed with rhythm.
The Nora uses lots of commas, even using a comma in place of the word ’and.’ Imitators often don’t realize that she varies her rhythm: one heavily-comma’ed sentence followed by a quicker, flowing one.
I’m absolutely in love with Marcus Sakey’s prose. You know I’m crazy about his book, The Blade Itself. Part of the reason is that he uses less commas per capita than any author I know. And it works, it works very well.
If you have a stroll through each section, you’ll find that literary prose often tends toward more commas, while thrillers tend toward less commas. (Generally.) Romance can fall in between, and speculative fiction is a world of its own that doesn’t seem to follow the trends of the rest of the world. (Especially concerning point of view.)
So what kind of rhythm do you prefer with your commas?