Star Trek Disease

Star Trek Disease

Comma defintion
Image by TungCheung from Adobe Stock

If you’re a writer, what are the most important things you need to think about? Spelling, grammar, and punctuation. (And, you know, imagination and creativity. Those are intangibles that someone can’t get taught, though) Your odds of success go down dramatically if you can’t manage those three things. Of course, in this era where you have Grammarly available, it’s not an excuse to turn in work riddled with such errors. But I digress. Because even electronic grammar machines aren’t flawless, and they’ll fail you from time to time. That means you have to dredge up that elementary and middle school knowledge (or break out your Strunk and White: Elements of Style). Sounds easy enough. So why do I stumble across posts, articles, and even stories that read like scripts from the William Shatner era of Star Trek?

You find, commas, in all, the wrong, places!

Delving into a refresher course on commas would lead to an encyclopedic post. If you recall your lessons, you know there are different situations for them to make an appearance. You have rules for dialogue, structure for various clauses, and the all-important Oxford comma debate. (Don’t worry – there’s plenty of time for me to get into all of those situations down the road) What drives me up the wall, though, is when I’m reading through something and finding myself stuttering through sentences because someone dropped a bag of commas into the sentences. That’s what we’ll confine this post to: the OVERUSE of that tiny little mark of punctuation.

First, though, let’s review the official (basic) definition of a comma:

“A punctuation mark indicating a pause between parts of a sentence. Also used to separate items in a list.”

~Oxford Languages

That word PAUSE is the key to using commas in your writing. You’re providing your reader with a chance to catch their breath. It’s not an excuse to write run-on sentences (that’s a different topic entirely), but it DOES allow you to craft complex thoughts. If you need an example, pick up any of Victor Hugo’s novels. The man’s thoughts can easily cover a couple of pages before you hit the end of the sentence. But because you have appropriate pauses to breathe and collect the concepts he wanted to present, you don’t think anything of it. So you get a thorough history of the Cathedral de Notre-Dame or a lecture about the French Civil War embedded into the plot of the novel, and you never bat an eye. He uses commas appropriately.

Then you come across other works that make you feel like you’re hyperventilating. If they happen to be horror or mysteries? It can work. The author’s creating the same tension and panic in the reader that the character’s feeling. But since I don’t read either of those genres (not often, anyway), those aren’t the pieces I find myself wincing over. Nope, I’m finding blogs, articles, even the occasional short story or novel that look like the Comma Fairy dumped her entire quota out on the page. The marks show up EVERYWHERE! And I have to wonder if the editor fell asleep, missed that chapter, or didn’t comprehend the definition of a comma in the first place. Reading is like trying to watch the Tin Man run (or, you know, imagining that as I’m not sure he ever actually runs in The Wizard of Oz). And trying to read the page aloud? It makes me sound like Captain Kirk.

Which is an easy way to PREVENT the problem.

The best way to edit your work is to read it aloud. Skimming something on a screen? There’s too much risk of your eyes bouncing over an error. And your brain likes to automatically correct things – even if they’re WRONG. (This is why you’re better off letting someone else edit your work, of course, but I recognize that isn’t always an option) When you start reading out loud, though, you find yourself catching more mistakes. And the start and stutter speech of an abundance of commas? That stands out right away. (Incidentally, so will a LACK of commas as you fall out of your chair, running out of breath) Suddenly, you expect to see Spock walk through the door or hear Scotty complain about a lack of power. (Okay, those are major clich├ęs. I’m not a Star Trek fan, so I’m limited on my ability to crack jokes)

And while you’d think Grammarly would pitch in and help you weed out all of the unnecessary marks, the program bails on you. I’ve even watched the window suggest EXTRA commas to me! (As I’ve mentioned before, we have a love-hate relationship where I spend at least half my time arguing with a computer screen) Blindly accepting everything a grammar program tells you is probably where these comma explosions come from. But it makes you look like you’ve never cracked open a book in your life (or that you opened the WRONG books). And, for readers, it makes attempting to get through your work a challenge.

Take the time out to read your work – OUT LOUD. If you have a significant other or children around and don’t want them to know what you’re writing? (I get it, there are uncomfortable topics and weird scenes we write) Close the door. Or print it out and find a quiet corner outside. (No one needs their neighbor calling the police because you’re mumbling about burying a body in the middle of the forest, three miles from the lake) But find a way to speak your sentences where you can hear them so you can make sure you’re not overdoing the commas. You want pauses that make sense. They should allow you to speak in a normal conversational manner. Do you feel like you’re speaking in your usual tone? Or do you think you’re auditioning for a Captain Kirk look-a-like contest?

Is this the tip of the comma iceberg? More like a single snowflake. But it felt like a good place to start. Commas represent a pause within a sentence. And if you can get past that part of the grammar, you’re already ahead of…well, you’re ahead of a lot of the work I’ve been editing recently. And the more we thin out the comma invasion, the better the written world will turn out in the end. (Don’t worry – we’ll chip away at that iceberg eventually)

Review of Harley Quinn: Night and Day

Review of Harley Quinn: Night and Day

Harley Quinn, Vol. 2: Night and Day by Karl Kesel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved how Mr. Kesel started this series of Harley Quinn – as much as there were blatant touches of male dominance. And then this volume smacked me in the face. Why, why, why were there so many (incorrect) female cliches running rampant through this plotline?! Harley does have a definite character, but here she ended up twisted into this bubble-headed ditz that wasn’t worth admiring. A shopping spree, really? Focusing on romance to the exclusion of – well, everything? Everything felt discordant, other than the backstory. Oh, sure, Harley’s supposed to have the attention span of a gnat, but why? Why did she ignore everything around her? That isn’t accurate. And what the hell was the deal with Lewis? That isn’t true to her character – at least not the character she becomes down the road. It felt like the ultimate betrayal. (And maybe that’s my fault for reading “backward”) The costume-swapping is hilarious, of course, but it felt like too much of the “this is what girls do” came out in this volume. A sign of the time? Maybe. But it grated.

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Review of Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes

Review of Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes

Harley Quinn, Vol. 1: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes by Karl Kesel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, yes, I know – I’ve gone backward on the Harley Quinn timeline. (Can you cut a girl some slack? I didn’t stumble across a list of all of the comics until recently) And while I can understand wanting to keep things in order, going into the development of a character is actually really interesting. Mr. Kesel laid down the groundwork for Harley’s independence and the first breakdown of her relationship with the Joker. It’s a little difficult to read at times – both as a stalwart fan and a female – but I genuinely feel the artistic team handled the storyline well. After all, this comic series predates the Rebirth revolution. We’re talking 2007 when females in the comic universe didn’t get the proper standing they deserved. Harley holds her own in a clearly male-dominated world, and comparing her with the Rebirth series is astounding. The lines and character remain grounded and true, which I love. And seeing her come out on top of everyone that underestimates her? You have to cheer and get invested in the plot. It’s the perfect introduction for this iconic character (you know, aside from the misogynistic slant to things).

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