Commas are Not "Pauses"…not "Pauses" at All

About a hundred and fifty years ago, a reader sent me a link to this useful site, which lists–and I quote–“50+ Open Courseware Writing Classes from the World’s Leading Universities.” If you want to learn how to write essays, stories, poetry, plays, terribly boring business documents, even more terribly boring scientific articles, or blogs that do not insult their readers in every other paragraph and go off into pointless rants about comma splices, this site is for you. If you do not want to learn any of the above, I am not sure why you are reading these words. Go away.

I am still not Officially on My Break and am, in fact, supposed to be marking twenty exams right now, so I shall still not be returning to my regular scheduled railing quite yet. I realise that it has been a long, long time since I claimed I was going to deal with the narrative mode. I am a bad person. I deserve to have to mark twenty exams. I also deserve to have lost at Scrabble to a man who got a bingo* with the word “mariner.” He always gets a bingo with the word “mariner.” How does he? Why can’t I? Why do I always end up with two “v”s, four “i”s, and a “u”?** Is “ivuivii” a word? (“Aalii” is. Use this information well, my friends.)

At any rate…it may be time for another Grammar Moment. It may especially be time for another Grammar Moment because the bleak and sordid fact of the matter is that I have never actually had a real comma-splice rant in this blog. Oh, I mention comma splices in passing occasionally, but I haven’t explained what a comma splice is and why the very thought of it makes me try to gouge my own eyes out with my teeth.

I shall deal with commas in general, then work my way up to the comma splice and, incidentally, into a righteous fury.

Here we go:

I have already explained–here–the extraordinarily simple but almost universally ignored fact that a comma is not “a pause” and a semi-colon is not “a longer pause.” Punctuation marks, believe it or not, have particular functions. If they didn’t, I would not scream and punch my desk when confronted with something like:

He was; a good student who, liked to finish! his work. On time…

If you use a comma, it had better be in your sentence for a reason. Otherwise, I shall have to hunt you down and personally terrify you into learning the punctuation rules.

Let’s start with a basic sentence:

John laughs.

Only someone with the grammatical sense of a lemming would write this sentence as follows:

John, laughs.

Why? You don’t separate the subject from the verb with a freaking comma…that’s why. There’s no need to do so. The subject and the verb are connected. A comma between them implies that they need to be separated for some reason.

At any rate, I know that you are right now staring in bafflement at this sentence and thinking, “Why is Kem explaining such a simple rule? Has she finally lost it? Has the marking destroyed her sense of proportion? If she goes mad and jumps into a ravine, can I have her piano?”

I am explaining “such a simple rule” because people break it all the time. They may not do so in sentences as tiny as the one above, but I cannot get through a batch of marking without encountering a shudder-inducing construction such as:

In Beowulf, the title character is a hero because he, is able to expel the monsters from Heorot.

Gosh…the sentence is longer than “John laughs”! It must need more commas! Let’s stick ’em any old where!

The whole separating-the-subject-from-the-verb-with-a-comma thing baffles me. Even the erroneous “pause” rule doesn’t work here; who besides William Shatner would pause between “he” and “is”? For crying out loud, people: common sense does quite frequently work fairly well with regards to punctuation. By the way, that sentence would also not work with a comma following “In,” “the,” “title,” “character,” “is,” “a”,” “hero,” “because,” “is,” “able,” “to,” “expel,” “the,” “monsters,” or “from.” Commas are not the chocolate sprinkles of written language.

Someone else might write the Beowulf sentence above as follows:

In Beowulf the title character is a hero because he is able to expel the monsters from Heorot.

In informal writing, the comma that follows an introductory word or phrase is sometimes optional. In formal writing, it isn’t. The comma after “Beowulf” fulfils a certain function: it separates the initial modifier (“In Beowulf“) from the clause (“the title character is a hero”) that follows it. Leaving out the initial comma can sometimes lead to confusion. For instance, in the sentence:

Once we had finished sorting out the quilts our cousins made us cookies.

the reader may experience a short period of bafflement while trying to figure out whether the cousins had made the quilts or the cookies. Sure, the meaning does eventually become clear, but in that moment of bewilderment, the reader’s concentration is broken. A comma after “quilts” saves her a headache and a small amount of despair.

Another common comma problem arises in the following two examples:

Bob was an excellent ninja assassin, and Rosemary had taught him everything he knew.

Bob was an excellent ninja assassin and had learned everything he knew from Rosemary.

Many writers would leave out the comma in the first sentence and add one after “assassin” in the second. I would then grow to monstrous size and stomp on their heads.**

Two simple rules:

1) If you have two complete clauses joined with a coordinating conjunction, a comma must appear before the conjunction.

2) If you have two phrases joined with a coordinating conjunction, leave the comma out or risk Kem’s wrath.

Think of it this way: “Bob was an excellent ninja assassin” can be a complete sentence, as can, “Rosemary had taught him everything he knew.” They may be joined with a semi-colon or a comma and coordinating conjunction; alternately, you can leave them as two complete sentences. However, “had learned everything he knew from Rosemary” cannot be a complete sentence.*** The “and” there is actually joining “was an excellent ninja assassin” (a phrase) with “had learned everything he knew from Rosemary” (another phrase). There are two sentences in here, but they are, “Bob was an excellent ninja assassin,” and, “Bob had learned everything he knew from Rosemary.” Because you omit the second “Bob,” you are squishing phrases, not clauses, together, and you can (nay…you must) leave out the damned comma.

A major function of the comma is as an indicator of parenthetical words or phrases: i.e., bits of a sentence that don’t actually have to be there for the sentence to make sense. Some examples:

The gilded baseball bat, which was falling to pieces, was probably not going to last much longer as a trophy.

Claire, my sister, is completely insane.

The boy slid down the roof, his fingers scrabbling vainly for purchase.****

It was, however, not a good day to die.

The commas clarify the functions of the parenthetical constructions. The parenthetical pair of commas also, by the way, allows you to separate the subject from the verb…but with two commas (with words in between ’em), not one.

If you write, “It was however not a good day to die,” I shall metaphorically flay you.

There are many other tiny comma rules, but these ones will do to go on with. One more huge one remains. It is time, ladies and gentlemen, to discuss my least favourite error:

The Comma Splice.

O comma splice, how I hate thee. How I wish published authors hated thee too. When I am reading happily along in a book by J. K. Rowling or Terry Pratchett, both of whom should really know better, and you suddenly rear your hideous head, I feel like retiring to a corner to weep. Why do people love you so? Why do they not realise that you are promoting terrible laziness? What is wrong with everyone?

A comma splice occurs when a writer joins two independent clauses with a comma. An example might be:

The evil overlord was at the end of his tether, he was tired of destroying planets and wanted to write a novel.

“The evil overlord was at the end of his tether” is a sentence. “He was tired of destroying planets and wanted to write a novel” is a sentence. Together, joined only by a comma, they are still two freaking bloody sentences.

Stop using comma splices! Stop it now! There are so many perfectly legitimate ways to join independent clauses that you have no excuses for your lazy rule-flaunting. Write the sentence like this:

The evil overlord was at the end of his tether; he was tired of destroying planets and wanted to write a novel.

…or this:

The evil overlord was at the end of his tether, for he was tired of destroying planets and wanted to write a novel.

…or this:

The evil overlord was at the end of his tether. He was tired of destroying planets and wanted to write a novel.

Look at all the options. Look at them just sitting there, waiting for you. Pick one, damn it. Don’t abuse the poor comma.

Another capacity in which I sometimes see comma splices is in the introduction of quotations into a paragraph. Students get all frightened***** when I jump up and down and scream about the need for them to incorporate quotations into sentences of their own. They end up “incorporating” the quotations as follows:

In King Lear, Edmund is motivated to revenge by his own illegitimacy, “Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. / Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund, / As to th‘ legitimate” (1.2.16-18).

Dear fictional student…you are not incorporating the bloody quotation by sticking it onto the end of your sentence by means of an illegal comma. You may as well just be plunking it down into the middle of the paragraph without explanation; you’re really doing the same thing here. The only difference is that you’ve substituted a comma for a period. Make the quotation part of your actual sentence, please. You haven’t even realised that the quotation you have chosen is not really appropriate to your point. If you had actually made an effort and incorporated the quotation properly, you could not have failed to notice. Try:

In King Lear, Edmund’s observation that his “father’s love is to the bastard Edmund, / As to th‘ legitimate” (1.2.17-18) spurs his attempt to rise above both “Legitimate Edgar” (1.2.16) and the father whose fault his illegitimacy is.

There: the quotations have actively become part of your argument, and the monstrous comma splice is gone forever. The Forces of Half-Decent Writing have Prevailed.

That’s enough about commas for now. I shall leave you with some Filthy Plagiarism:******

composition on hold your blue gold

…the hell? I don’t even know what this moron means. I hope he accidentally bites a hole in his tongue.

write a paragraph describing your best friend

example of paragraph describing your best friend

How many times do I have to say this? It’s your best friend. Sit the hell down and describe her, you putrefying rat corpse.

writing an essay describing plot eternal present

The Eternal Present seems to be a film. Perhaps you could go and watch it, then describe its plot. Just a suggestion.

narrative paragraph on making a sandwich

Are there really that many people out there who are incapable of describing how to make a friggin‘ sandwich? Dude: make a sandwich, then write about it. You can eat the sandwich afterwards if you like. If you steal the description off the Internet, you don’t get to eat the sandwich.

essay writing on fame

I’ll give you fame, you pustule. I’ll make you famous for being a cheating piece of slime. HEY, TEACHERS WHO HAVE SET TOPICS ON “FAME”: AT LEAST ONE OF YOUR STUDENTS IS CHEATING! NAIL THE LITTLE FREAK!

essay writing about different ways a person is “smart”

It is understandable that you would need to “cheat” on this “topic,” as you are clearly not “familiar” with the whole “smart” thing.

write an essay on fault is within me not in the world

You are an essay on fault is within me not in the world.

paragraph writing about if i were batman for a day

I am still completely incapable of understanding why anyone assigned an essay or paragraph on Batman would not want to write it. Admittedly, I do enjoy the opportunity to imagine what Batman would do to someone he caught stealing an essay about him.*******

My brain is bleeding, and I need to go to bed. I’ll be back when I’ve finished marking and thus honed my bitterness to a fine point.

*A “bingo” is what you get in Scrabble when you use all seven of your letters and earn a fifty-point bonus. It is not what I get in Scrabble when I use all seven of my letters and earn a fifty-point bonus, since I never actually manage to do that. A “scream of frustration” is what you get in Scrabble when you can’t come up with a bingo and continually lose to someone who keeps spelling bloody “mariner.”
**Just like Dr. Horrible, though admittedly, he only gets to do it in a wish-fulfilment musical number.
***…no matter how sincerely you wish it could.
This sentence is pretty clumsy (you want to get the modifier as close to the subject as possible); the problem is that “The boy, his fingers scrabbling vainly for purchase, slid down the roof” is also clumsy in a different way.
*****I can’t imagine why.
******New readers: the Filthy Plagiarists’ Roll of Dishonour records Google searches done by idiots who stumble upon this site while searching for material to steal.
*******It would involve batarangs and the words, “Fear me.”

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.