Monday, May 25, 2015

Happy Memorial Day and a writing tip

Real letters written by a French Soldier during the First World War. Touching letters written to his mother and other loved ones sharing his thoughts, feelings and fears from August 14, 1914 to his disappearance on April 6, 1915.
Question from the e-mail: What are the most common mistakes you see in the manuscripts you receive. I don't expect you to answer all at once, but if you could put one up on your blog every few days, I will compile my own file of "What NOT to dos!" I'm getting it, Keep Sending Them!!

Answer: Missing Commas

A goodly amount of advice has been handed out to learning writers about leaving out commas as unnecessary. I've been told the "slow the action" or "get too pedantic" or "Don't really need to be bothered with, by teachers through the years, though that is not advice I have ever given as a teacher.

Commas are used to indicate a short pause, just enough time for a reader to take a breath. They also enclose parenthetical phrases, separate descriptive words in a series, and attach adverbs that would normally require a pause. Because the general public reads at a fifth grade level, most readers will not notice a missing comma.

And in some cases, as in the separation of descriptive words, it may not actually confuse a read if you write:
   He drove a fast blue car.
   Instead of: He drove a fast, blue, car.
  On the other hand people who may have English as a second language might s top and ask themselves, "What color is fast-blue???

Critics will revile missing commas, and in some cases  they can certainly lead to confusion in the reader. For those who don't know, to confuse the reader is writing's greatest sin.

And commas can be very important. A Single missing comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Take a look at the following:

“Shoot John!”

Since there is no comma, there is no pause in the sentence. Without any pause, John is clearly the target!

But in:

“Shoot, John!”

The second example, it is clear that John is the one who is ordered to shoot.  Makes quite a difference -- especially to John.

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