Hi, I'm Ray Evans. I'm a certified copyeditor and proofreader.
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Ah, the humble comma, the unsung hero of punctuation. Or is it the bane of a writer's existence? I can never remember which. But either way, if you're a fiction writer, you're bound to encounter this squiggly little line that's always ready to leap into action, saving your readers from the dreaded wall of text. So, without further ado, let's explore some tips for mastering the mighty comma and improving the flow and clarity of your writing.
The Mischievous Comma: Splicing Sentences
Much like a mischievous imp that sneaks around splicing sentences, the comma splice is a common error in writing. It occurs when two independent clauses are joined with just a comma, and not a coordinating conjunction. Just remember that if your clauses can stand on their own, they deserve more than a comma between them. Give 'em a little something extra – a semicolon, a period, or at the very least, a coordinating conjunction like "and" or "but."
The comma is a master of the dance floor when it comes to dialogue. Think of it as the punctuation
cha-cha partner to quotation marks. When you're writing dialogue, commas are necessary for
marking the end of a statement, question, or exclamation before a dialogue tag. Make sure the comma
is inside the quotation marks, or it'll be left without a dance partner, and nobody wants that.
The only exception to this is when the quoted material ends is an interrogative sentence:
Example : "Who stole my nachos?" he demanded, glaring around the room.
Oxford Comma: A Punctuation Controversy
The Oxford comma – or the serial comma, as it's known to its fans – is the comma used immediately
before the coordinating conjunction (usually "and" or "or") when listing three or more items. Some
people love it, some people hate it, but either way, it's got a loyal following that would rival the latest
boy band craze.
For clarity's sake, I'm pro-Oxford comma, but you should pick a side and stick to it. Consistency is key
in punctuation, much like a good punchline.
The Comma is a Clause Whisperer
Like a skilled animal trainer, the comma is excellent at wrangling independent and dependent
clauses. When a dependent clause comes before an independent one, use a comma after the
dependent clause to separate the two. However, if the independent clause comes first, no comma is
needed. See? It's like magic – the kind that's performed by a street magician in Times Square at
Example: Because she couldn't find her keys, Lucy was late for work.
Pausing for Effect
Have you ever listened to a story and thought, "Wow, this could really use a dramatic pause"? That's
what commas do in writing. They let your reader take a little breather, allowing them to fully absorb
the impact of your words. However, don't overdo it – too many commas can leave your readers
gasping for air.
remember that the comma is like the drummer of the punctuation band, keeping the rhythm and flow
of your writing smooth and groovy. With practice and a little help from these tips, you'll become a
comma connoisseur in no time. And who knows? You might even end up with groupies lining up to
ask you about the Oxford comma debate.