Monday, June 09, 2008

Pause for thought

It's fair to say that commas and I have never got on. Perhaps its the way they lie insolent on the line like a drunk in the gutter, perched between the respectability of the pavement and the out and out seediness of sprawling in the road. Whatever. I use them like I use pepper on pasta - the dish looks better with it and occasionally a crumb will land in the just the right place to counterpoint the taste of the sauce. Was that metaphor too tortured? I hope so.

I'm not sure why it is that commas and me are such strangers. I'm a whizz at spelling but I have no recollection from my school days of the laws of commas being drummed in to me like spelling - though the fact that I read like a crazy person might have helped my ability to spell.

This admission is perhaps something of a surprise given where I work and what I have done for a living for the past 15 years. It's perhaps a comment on the sad state of prose in the papers or simply that, even if I do not know, many of those that I have worked with do. Subs are a boon!

Lots of the comments I've got on stories I've put together recently have focussed on commas and my cavalier (ab)use of them. One story was critiqued by an English teacher and, this is going to sound a little odd,I got a real thrill to find out where they should go. It really changed the way the lines read. I'm a long way from being like Proust or Oscar Wilde who, it is said, having removed a comma from one line pored over the text for two days and then put it back in. At least then, the story goes, they knew why it was there.

That very kind reviewer pointed me to this site and it turns out there are rules for using commas. I always thought it was something much more abstruse but no. There are proper places where they should be used. Cool. That OWLS site is fab in other ways too - it has lots of great advice for novice writers. And the more I write the more I realise that's what I will always be.

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