This month's co-hosts are Krista McLaughlin, Kim Van Sickler, Heather Gardner, and Hart Johnson!
Okay, I had a whole Insecure Writer’s Support Group Post all lined up (even clocking in under the prescribed 300 words—please, I can’t even sneeze in under 300 words), but you know what? Screw it. I’m going to tell you what I’m really insecure about right now:
Yeah, you heard me right. I don’t use commas well.
It all started twenty years ago (Yeah, you know you’re old when you can start stories like that—Oh, and Crap, I’m old! I Can start stories with “two decades ago…”). Right, so two decades ago, I signed up for a correspondence course. A writing course. I’ll even admit that it was the first—AND LAST—fiction writing class that I ever took. It may have colored my opinion a bit. I should maybe try another, you know, just in case the one from twenty years ago was anomalous, but I digress. Twenty years ago, I was told that I used too many commas.
Specifically, I was told that I “clearly did not understand the proper use of a comma.”
Granted, I probably was somewhat lacking in that particular aspect of punctuation (you should see my dire lack of hyphenation now!). Regardless, I was mocked. I was not yet twenty, but the correspondence teacher didn’t know that. It was a college level course after all, ergo, I was a college student. He mocked my comma usage, and from that moment on, the comma had EXACTLY one use: to join independent clauses with a conjunction. That. Is. IT. For years—DECADES even.
Fast forward to some of my earlier work. One nameless reader of my early work once quipped “What did commas ever do to you?” Well, they were the vehicle of my humiliation, so nothing personal comma. Don’t expect to find yourself unnecessarily inserted into my sentences.
I’ve been informed that commas come where you would take a breath if you were reading aloud.
Let’s face it: some of us are longer winded than others.
I’ve been informed that commas are only for lists.
Commas are for separating ideas.
Commas are for lists, but never use them on the third, or serial comma. It is confusing.
Commas are for dependent clauses, but not independent ones--as if emancipation of a clause mandated its comma usage.
Commas are to ensure the unsplit nature of infinitives.
Commas are poorly utilized in the English Language.
After two decades of bumbling around and studying this grand language of ours, I now have opinions on commas. And because I am insecure about them, I will now foist them upon you. Remember, I had to be mocked into this tacit list. Ignore at your own risk, but by no means should you take my word for it.
The oxford comma is—in my opinion—non-negotiable. Use it. It will clarify numerous issues, including, but not limited to, whether JFK and Stalin were strippers.
Use a comma before the conjunction joining two independent clauses.
A comma is appropriate to set apart a prepositional phrase, particularly at the beginning of a sentence, but it is, on occasion, discretional.
A comma is always appropriate following dialogue that precedes a dialogue tag. It is also appropriate prior to dialogue when a period would be awkward.
If you have an aside—an interjection, per se—consider the ‘m’ dash instead of a parenthetical comma.
Utilize commas at your discretion when joining a dependent clause to an independent clause.This one will take finesse and, dare I say, discretion.
Which brings me nicely to my last comma rule: if you can break the two clauses with a period, do so. There is nothing finer in the English language, than the finality of a period. End. Stop. (bonus points if you have a bloody clue what an end stop refers to).
So, what about you? Have any hard and fast rules on punctuation? And just so as we’re clear, I’m serious about that Oxford comma.