I have been knee deep (okay, shoulder deep)the past 10 days working on a final edit. Rewriting is solitary but necessary endeavor. There are two parts: The plot and grammar. I enjoy the plotting aspect, churning out different scenarios, trying to provide more humor, suspense, and better pacing. Grammar… not so much. Especially those pesky commas.
I was first introduced to commas in third grade by the head warden of education at St. Perfection, Sister Mary Inez. After completing my assigned paragraph, I began to go outside for a much needed recess. “Stop! Where are your commas? No recess for you until you get commas in this mess.” I took the paragraph and added my commas after each and every word. I didn’t see recess for another month. It took the governor three more years to sign my parole papers.
Withstanding years of frustration and avoidance, commas are now my friend. It’s kind of like the bully from middle school who is now your best pal…uh, bad example, mine is serving 10-12 years. Anyway, it just took me a long time to come around. Mostly, I left them off, but when I had more time, I would occasionally hit the comma key to make sure it was still working. Here now is my tip of the month: When to use a comma before ‘and’, my biggest offender.
Let’s start with this innocent sounding sentence… The dog ran to me and stopped at my feet. Look at each sides of ‘and’. Are they both complete with a subject and an action? I can say yes for ‘My dog ran to me,’ but no for ‘stopped at my feet’. If one fails the test, then no comma.
Prince ran to me, and he dropped a nylon rope at my feet. In this case the comma is added since we have two complete thoughts on each side of ‘and.’
The other place commas and ‘and’ comes into question is with a series. The dog ate my shoes, socks, and underwear. This one is easy… include a comma if you have three or more in a series. The dog ate my shoes and socks, would not have a comma.
If Sister Mary Inez had explained this in the first place, it would have saved me a lot of heartache and recesses.