Monday, August 27, 2018

Writer, Don't Forget the Basics (Part 2)

By Andrea Merrell

In my last post, we talked about a few basics that all writers need to know. This week, let’s look at a subject all writers struggle with: punctuation (especially commas).

Comma Usage

  • When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series of three or more, a comma—known as the serial (series) comma or the Oxford comma—should appear before the conjunction. Example: Be sure to bring your laptop, manuscript, and proposal to the conference.

  • Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction when it joins independent clauses. Example: Mary wanted to be a writer, but she lacked the discipline to write daily.                

  • Use a comma before then when and or but is omitted but implied. Example: Susie grabbed her purse, then ran out of the room without a word.

  • No comma after But or And at the beginning of a sentence. Example: But I don’t want to go back and rewrite my novel.

  • Use a comma with the word too at the end of a sentence only when you want to emphasize an abrupt change of thought. The comma is generally not needed. Example: Attending a critique group is a way to get feedback on your writing too.

  • Limit comma splices (except in rare instances, as in the case of this famous example: "I came, I saw, I conquered"). Change to two sentences, add a conjunction, or use a semicolon. Incorrect: Adam submitted his manuscript, the publisher    did not accept poetry. Correct: Adam submitted his manuscript. The publisher did not accept poetry. Correct: Adam submitted his manuscript; the publisher did not accept poetry. Correct: Adam submitted his manuscript, but the publisher did not accept poetry.

  • Periods and commas always precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single. Example: Nate has always said, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Incorrect: Nate has always said, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t”.

Em and En Dash
Most publishers prefer the em dash (—) as opposed to the en dash (–). No spaces should be added on either side of the em dash.

Example: Joe submitted a devotion without proofreading it—a mistake he regretted.

An ellipsis is always a series of three dots. Do not end a sentence with …… or …? The end of the ellipsis will be the end of the sentence. Most publishers are going with the AP style:  space … space. This works best with e-books and online venues.

Example: “How did you do that so … so quickly?”

In future posts, we’ll look at the difference between speaker tags and speaker beats, point of view (POV), crafting dialogue, creating memorable characters, writing tight, and showing, not telling.

If you have something specific you would like us to address in one of our posts, please share in the comment section. We would love to hear from you.


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