Punctuating our lives

- 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.

One comments

  1. Elaine, I have blessed the comma, cursed the comma, and even–I am loath to admit–snubbed the pesky critter while in the heat of storytelling. In short, I have not appreciated its subtle power. I have never, never looked at those tiny potent curves in quite so lovely a way as you!

    Right now, I am breathing, redirecting my thoughts, and vowing to think more kindly of the comma, and the stories it peppers, from this point forward.

    An interesting, and thoughtful post. Thanks you.