Be Consistent

Here I’ll discuss consistency. I’ve reviewed writers who tended not to follow any particular pattern in how they punctuated their work. Especially with commas. Those pesky little critters seem hellbent on giving us writers nightmares, even during the day. Especially during the day.

For instance, some writers put commas before “and” in a list of two (clauses, nouns, verbs, what-have-you) – sometimes – and then sometimes they don’t, as in the following sentence, “The stallion galloped across the field, and jumped the fence at the far end.” Grammatically speaking, that comma doesn’t belong there. Now if you said, “The stallion galloped across the field, and the mare at the other end starting running as well.” That comma placement is correct. (Yes, I know, some of you will be screaming that I didn’t format the previous two sentences correctly; however, there actually was a reason for that. Can you figure it out?)

But I’ve encountered writers – good writers – who used the commas correctly in some sentences but then incorrectly in others, in exactly the same type of context.

Are they simply confused, or are they trying to cover all the bases?

Now sometimes you may want punctuation where the grammar rules say you shouldn’t, for emphasis. As in the previous sentence. But you shouldn’t do that too often, else the technique loses its impact.

 

Dear Maggie,

You know sometimes I cain’t figure out how something should be punctuated, so I just use different ways, kinda like that equal employment thing, you know? Like, should I put a comma after the second to last word in a list, or put a hyphen between them words that come before a noun (I think that’s what it’s called). So I just do a one-sentence thing one way then do another one sentence thing the other way. That way, both ways are satisfied.

 Does that make sense?

Yours truly,

Mr Impartial

 

Dear Mr. Impartial,

 That makes perfect sense, to a 5-year-old maybe. And I do applaud your policy of impartiality to punctuation. No one could ever accuse you of playing favorites, right? Not even 5 year olds.

 But, if you want to be a “real” writer, above all else you must be consistent. Even though different style guides (you’re probably wondering what those are, aren’t you?) show different treatments of the same situations, you need to pick one and stick with it.

 Which one should I pick? you may well ask. It all depends on your intended target readers and maybe your agent, although I doubt you’ll have to worry about that any time soon. Two of the guides common in the U.S. are the AP Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style. I suggest you check them out. You do know how to search for things on the Internet, I hope. If you don’t, go ask someone else.

 Does that make sense?

I didn’t think so.

 P.S. Are you related to Miss Information?

 

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About aakemp

I am a fiction writer and freelance writer/proofreader with excellent research abilities as well. What I offer is high quality writing done in a smooth, logically consistent and error-free manner. No fluff ever with my writing! Just intelligent, interesting copy. My novels include the young adult fantasy, "The Dragons of Atlantis" and the thriller/mystery, "Beneath the Smoke," available on Amazon's Kindle program. Also "The Dragons of Atlantis" is available on OffTheBookshelf.com as an ebook or hard copy.
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