Commas and Excessive Wordiness

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  1. Marie Flint profile image77
    Marie Flintposted 2 years ago

    Lately I've been reading a lot of self-published authors (not necessarily on HubPages) who seem to have no concept about how to use commas.

    Writing is a craft. You express your feelings, share information, entertain, or persuade. Commas have their place, rather like a vintage frame for a vintage picture--or a modern frame for a abstract art. Of course, maybe you want no frame at all, i.e., blank verse poetry.

    Here is an example of a piece of work I've been reviewing (author name and title of work is withheld for protection):

    ORIGINAL:  In a crazy attempt to send a message to him, I looked at the solemn hospital building, and even though it was very late, I honked my horn three times, just in case my dad was listening, and just in case he remembered the code, and just in case he needed to know I loved him.

    COMMENT: These are basically a series of wordy, repetitive thoughts that are, yes, filled with emotion, but can burden the reader with their sheer plethora. I read these sentences over several times. How can the sentences be clearer with a little more "punch" while maintaining the emotional message? The following is my solution:

    I looked at the solemn hospital building. Would Dad remember the code? Was he listening? Even though the hour was late, I honked my horn three times in a crazy attempt to let him know I loved him. ~~~

    The preceding and following paragraphs work nicely with my change. Not every writer may agree, but this is how the craft of writing evolves.

    Ernest Hemmingway used to set a goal of writing a thousand "saleable" words a day. What is saleable? In my opinion, they are words that paint a picture, exercise the five senses, compare things in a unique way, and make sense. The words have to give the reader a message, an "aha!" feeling without word overload.

    I hope sharing my experience inspires some of my friends here on HubPages, especially new writers who may be struggling to get an article featured.

    Be brave and keep writing! You can only learn the craft by exercising it.

    1. MizBejabbers profile image87
      MizBejabbersposted 2 years agoin reply to this

      Some of my pet peeves, Marie, but a lot of self-published authors have no training in writing. Most probably didn't pay attention in their high school English classes. Some of the best writers I've seen on HP are ESL speakers and writers. At least they paid attention and learned.
      You reminded me of what one of my instructors said to a student in my editorial page management class, which was misnamed because it basically taught us to write editorials, not manage the page. She had the opposite problem, long wordy sentences with a lack of commas. I won't give her name, but the professor was Mr. Paul Greenberg, the editor of our statewide newspaper who had won a Pulitzer prize in the 1960s. This young lady wrote an editorial in her usual run-on, sans comma style opposite of your example. We got a laugh when Mr. Greenberg held up her paper and said to her, "What have you got against commas, for gosh sakes?" Then he proceeded to show her by example how her full-page sentence should be broken up and rewritten.

    2. Jonathan Wylie profile image96
      Jonathan Wylieposted 2 years agoin reply to this

      On the subject of commas, I have recently had a number of articles reviewed and the majority of the corrections, (typos aside), have been to remove Oxford commas. I have tried emailing Hubpages about this, but I never get a response. Will some editors remove Oxford commas, and others not? Are Oxford commas discouraged? Is there a style guide for writers that talks about this in more detail? Thanks.

      1. MizBejabbers profile image87
        MizBejabbersposted 2 years agoin reply to this

        Jonathan, I found your comment interesting. I worked as a newspaper copyeditor for 3 years, and we never gave Oxford commas a thought. However, I spent nearly 30 years after that as a legal editor for the law books of the State of Arkansas (the Arkansas Code Annotated of 1987). One of the first things that I learned was that Oxford commas were very vital in the field of law. We were required to use them, and as an editor, I inserted them if a bill drafter did not. Here's the reason, very simplistically stated:

        If a person was suing a restaurant over a plate of biscuits, ham and eggs, the court had to know specifically if the ham and eggs were each a separate dish or if they were a combined dish in order to make a decision.

        I realize this isn't critical in every day writing, in most instances, that is, but they do add clarity to a sentence. I've noticed that copyeditors of magazines and ezines today are eliminating a lot of commas from sentences, not just the Oxford comma. I'm not sure if this is a new style or if it's done out of ignorance of proper grammar rules, but I'm sure the grammar police of my day are turning over in their graves.
        As for me, a professional editor of over 30 years, I would not remove your Oxford commas.

  2. Jodah profile image92
    Jodahposted 2 years ago

    Thank you Marie. Your advice is always most welcome. You suggested changes to that  example text improved it greatly. That was comma overload  lol.

  3. Treshty profile image80
    Treshtyposted 2 years ago

    Hey there Ms Marie, I'd love to hear your opinion whenever you notice some of my work out there, well maybe because I see your debate very reasonable. Good day:-)

  4. Kenna McHugh profile image89
    Kenna McHughposted 2 years ago

    My advice is to keep writing and don't edit while you write. Hemingway had lovers or wives who edited his work.  For Whom The Bell Tolls is dedicated to his current wife at the time. I get your point Marie. As a writer writes more they get better. The editor guides and helps. Look at Rowling. By the time she finished the last Potter book she was brilliant. So many times I've heard or read writers thanking their editors.

  5. bhattuc profile image83
    bhattucposted 2 years ago

    Well illustrated. Many of us often do not care about comma but the serious readers find it and feel uncomfortable. I agree that writing evolves with practice and even the small things matter.

  6. Marie Flint profile image77
    Marie Flintposted 2 years ago

    Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read this post. I hope I've been helpful or at least got one or two writers thinking.

    Blessings to all and Merry Christmas!

    P.S. I will no longer be receiving notifications on this post.

  7. Titia profile image93
    Titiaposted 2 years ago

    You're so right and your example is very clear. I know quite well how to write in my native language. As a former IRL secretary I had to follow a special course on writing up the minutes of the team leader's meetings. The English punctuation though is somewhat different at times. For instance: in the Dutch language we never put a comma before the word 'and'.  I'm always glad with the HP editors, I learn a lot from them.

    1. MizBejabbers profile image87
      MizBejabbersposted 2 years agoin reply to this

      Isn't writing fun! I knew a couple of Japanese students when I was studying journalism. Their biggest mistakes in writing in English, one of them told me, was that their own language had no articles, and they kept forgetting to use them in English.


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