- by Elaine Isaak
I understand that there are two types of editors: those who take commas out, and those who put them in. I seem to have the kind who take them out, happily excising the commas from my dependent clauses, or swapping them for semi-colons willy-nilly. Most Americans don’t need to think about puncuation much after theyleave high school. For the writer, it’s an integral part of our lives.
Perhaps because I came to fiction from poetry, I tend to hang upon the slightest thing rather than focus on the overall shape of the sentence. I add a comma because I want a breath even when it’s not strictly neccessary. I love Pico Iyer’s essay “In Praise of the Humble Comma“ wherein he muses on the loveliness of such a pause. Even more so than two decades ago when the essay was written, we need the pauses in our lives. I think this is one reason that people come to fiction.
As a fantasy writer, I chafe at the idea that fantasy is escapist, encouraging the reader to run away from their actual problems into a world of make-believe. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fiction acting as,well, a comma to one’s ordinary life. It invites you to take a breather, to consider more deeply what came before, and what will come after. It gives you a chance to craft the phrases of your day, and of your life, to nuance the world with a subtle re-direction of the thought process.
The comma, the story, offers a little perspective, a rest that one recieves all too rarely on the headlong plunge toward that inevitable period, the end.