Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bring on the commas

Kate Braverman was on my show the other day talking about her new book of essays, Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles. She had something interesting to say about letting loose with your writing: Use commas. Whenever you feel like using a period, use a comma instead. Commas, she said, start a kind of alchemy and create magic in your writing.

(I'm going to post that show this week. The one up there now is Kate when she was on a couple of years ago.)

I love that, though: Commas.....! Reminded me of what I occasionally ask my students to do--and what they often lament--during a freewriting: Write all one sentence. Then I set the timer for ten or 15 minutes. It's a great technique. It helps to break down the internal critic, to send that critic hobbling up the street for a coffee so you can be left alone to create.

8 comments:

jordan said...

Yes - whoever invented commas should win the Nobel thing. I, being a contrarian, prefer dashes. Periods are too abrupt and should only be used at the end of a book.

Speaking of books, I have this neat little booK on punctuation. Can't remember the title or the author but she's very funny. Her chapter on commas is titled COMMA SUTRA.

Victor Infante said...

On the whole I agree with her, although that way leads to run-on sentences which, frankly, are better in some hands than others.

I think the real question is, "Where do you stand on the serial comma?"

Leslea said...

Dashes, commas, parentheses...they're all our friends. Ah, and the good ole elipse, how could I forget? ;)

Listening to the archived show now. She is certainly very strongly opinionated about the two kinds of writers there are. I look foward to hearing the more recent interview, as well! I love how you post older as well as more fresher episodes of the same authors.

jordan said...

The name of the book on punctuation and English usage I couldn't remember is WOE IS I by Patricia O'connor. Some of the chapters are:
Plurals before Swine
Verbal Abuse
Comma Sutra
No. I am not her publicist.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett said...

When I do a 15 minute freewrite that's all once sentence and just globbed with commas, I then go back and edit. I use periods, break things up. But deciding to write for a spell with no periods--just commas and dashes and semi-colons and the like--can be magical in how it loosens you up like a good walk, or a glass of wine (only one!).

I like the book you mentioned, Jordan. Also Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale...it's a favorite of mine.

cardeia said...

Ahh the comma. For me, short stacatto-like sentences that pack a whallop in my technical writing are what I strive for. Short, concise, concrete... The mantra in technical manuals. Less with more! Grammar, grammar, grammar!

But in my creative writing, I try to use them liberally, sprinkling them throughout, achieving these wondrously long and fluent sentences that ramble. Creative writing should not have set grammar rules, it should be this organic process that allows you to get the thought down how is sounds best, not how it is "orrect" in the eyes of a style guide.

But when I read back my long and comma-riddled creative writing when finishing a session, my Tech Writer brain comes out... that's too long... it's too wordy... and I try to break it up. I begin the hatchet routine and pull out the "period" stamp. Sometimes with good results, sometimes with not-so-good ones.

To cure myself of the crossover in my genres, I have been doing freewrites with ellipses. If I want to end a sentence with a period because the thought is complete, instead of a period I put in an ellipsis and then just keep going to the next though. Often, after reading it back once the timer goes, I see that no, the thought wasn't complete, and I was able to continue it quite nicely without the next sentence.

It has made my comma use in my creative writing easier to accept and I am improving my fluidity, and decreasing the compulsiuon to shorten and hack at lovely cadence-intensive rambling thoughts.

Another book I have been recommended for its take on grammar and such is Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynn Truss. I have yet to read it, but recently found an online game based on the book.

http://eatsshootsandleaves.com/ESLquiz.html

Very much fun for the younger set just learning about punctuation and grammar.

Anonymous said...

Is the Kate Braverman Interview from '06 going to be on again?? Missed it the first time and would love to hear it. Thanks!

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett said...

Yes, if it's not up by now (the Kate show), it will be soon.