Home « Forum « Editors/Reviewers Hangout

Forum: Editors/Reviewers Hangout

Comma Splices

awnlee jawking

How many editors/proofreaders report comma splices back to authors?

A novel I've been suckered into beta-reading is festooned with them, making the narrative rather jerky. My current inclination is to not report them for fear of discouraging the author (and because there are a LOT of them). After all, since I'm beta-reading reading it, the novel should have already been intensely scrutinised, and be close to a finished product.

AJ

Michael Loucks
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

I have one 'Early Reader' who does nothing but correct usage of commas, semi-colons, em-dashes, etc. He's FAR more anal than I am, but I totally appreciate it.

I did have to slap one reader's hand for trying to remove my 'Oxford Commas' because you can have THOSE when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers!

My suggestion - drop him a note and ask him if he's interested in correcting the issue.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Zom
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


How many editors/proofreaders report comma splices back to authors?


Most, I would hope. Genuine comma splices are not good for reading.

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

Since you're a beta-reader, you should be looking at it from a reader's perspective, not an editor. But if it bothers you as a reader, you should let him know.

Don't give him a list of the comma splices you found. Make the comment more general, like you did here. Simply tell him the comma splices made the narrative jerky and that it interfered with your reading.

Then it's up to him. He could ignore your feedback. He could ask you what comma splices are. He could ask for examples. He could say that's his style (I do that with fragmented sentences).

robberhands

Either you're editing to the best of your ability or you should drop it and send the author a note how much you appreciate his comma splicing. I for one surely would want to be notified that I fuck up a whole lot of my sentences.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I do that with fragmented sentences


I spotted them, and in a fast-paced thriller like yours I think they can be very effective.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

I for one surely would want to be notified


It's easy to say that, but a lot of authors get very confrontational when their standard of English is questioned.

AJ

robberhands

@awnlee jawking

It's easy to say that, but a lot of authors get very confrontational when their standard of English is questioned.

That might be. I'm German, so it's no wonder my standard of English is pretty low.

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

and in a fast-paced thriller like yours I think they can be very effective.


But they can also be overdone. I borrowed the style from Lee Child (Jack Reacher), but I think he overdoes them.

Maybe comma splices are his style (although I can't think of a reason why). But as an author, I would want to know how it affected my reader's enjoyment or distraction.

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

but a lot of authors get very confrontational


Then they shouldn't ask for beta-readers or editors.
They don't have to agree, but they shouldn't be confrontational.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

so it's no wonder my standard of English is pretty low.


Didn't you claim you're not self-deprecating?

You used an apostrophe correctly - that probably puts you in the top 50% :(

AJ

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

BTW, should it be "Moppets' Warlord" or "Moppet's Warlord"?

AJ

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

How many editors/proofreaders report comma splices back to authors?


all or my editors report what they see as incorrect comma usage. with two who tend to want more commas than I do. However, there is a difference in commas usage between the UK and US writing styles. In the US they tend tow ant every damn phrase split by a comma, even when the two phrases belong together.

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

BTW, should it be "Moppets' Warlord" or "Moppet's Warlord"?


Wouldn't that depend on who he's referring to as Moppet? Moppet's Warlord is the Warlord who works for a person called Moppet while Moppets' Warlord is the Warlord who works for or leads a group of Moppets.

robberhands

@awnlee jawking

BTW, should it be "Moppets' Warlord" or "Moppet's Warlord"?

I somehow fear that is a trick question, but it should be "Moppets' Warlord". Now you can tell me where I fucked it up.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

A novel I've been suckered into beta-reading is festooned with them, making the narrative rather jerky. My current inclination is to not report them for fear of discouraging the author (and because there are a LOT of them).

I think you have a responsibility to report them if you find them distracting as a reader.

How sensitive should you be in reporting them? I don't know; I would've discussed what was expected before agreeing to take on the task.

Based on your description, I would report a loss of trust that the author knows the conventional requirements for a valid sentence. I stress, I DO NOT think authors, especially (but not just) authors of fiction, should not employ occasional unconventional constructions to create special effect. However, if I see too many, with no apparent purpose, I'll begin thinking every unconventional construction I see is just another mistake - rather than looking for the effect the author was attempting to create.

Ernest Bywater

personally, I prefer a Pine Lime Splice.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splice_(ice_cream)

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

I read the latest available chapter of your WIP, looking for comma splices. I didn't find any, but I found "Moppet's Warlord" right near the end.

I wouldn't call it a fuck up since most people presumably missed it. Now if you had written "Muppet's Warlord" ...

Apologies for posting that in open forum, I should have sent you a private message. Sometimes my attempts at humour fall almost as flat as Bruce's ;)

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@awnlee jawking

Bah, no apology needed. Such mistakes always slip through, no matter how often a chapter is proofread.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

Bah, no apology needed. Such mistakes always slip through, no matter how often a chapter is proofread.


What's worse si when an editor tells you of an issue and you fix, but introduce a new error while doing so.

I recently went through a story to make a couple of minor revision, and I noticed a few errors that got through the five editors I regularly use, and the three readers who work as extra editors, plus the five reads I do between finale text and posting. It's amazing what you don't see at times. Another thing I've learned is the medium you're reading while show up different error types. PDF, HTML, word processor, e-pub while all highlight different types of errors in the text.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Michael Loucks

My suggestion - drop him a note and ask him if he's interested in correcting the issue.

I'd correct a few and see what his response it. It's entirely possible that his editors are like you, figuring it's simply his 'style', while he's completely in the dark about it. But, since comma splices are a version of run-on sentences, I'm sure he's aware he's got an issue, though he may be defensive about it if enough people have commented on it.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Don't give him a list of the comma splices you found. Make the comment more general, like you did here. Simply tell him the comma splices made the narrative jerky and that it interfered with your reading.

I'd flag the sentences, but rather than flagging an entire chapter, I'd flag about three, so he can see what the issue is and then let him respond. If he dismisses it, he's unlikely to change. If he's curious, you can identify more and provide some needed background on the subject.

Many authors can't see beyond their own shortcomings. They've always written like that and so they insist that it's 'how they write'. As I've stated repeatedly here, there's a way to compose complex sentences, and comma splices aren't the solution. Complex sentences are fine, especially if you know who your fans are (i.e. are they intelligent enough to figure out what the hell you're saying), but anything which doesn't make sense, or which is painful to read, is going to cost him readers, no matter how good the underlying story is.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I spotted them, and in a fast-paced thriller like yours I think they can be very effective.

In those cases, it's a genuine style issue, as you're trying to convey a frantic scene, and the fragmented sentences capture the sense of the moment. It's an accepted technique. Comma splices are more a matter of someone not knowing how to compose a sentence, which doesn't instill confidence in readers.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

It's easy to say that, but a lot of authors get very confrontational when their standard of English is questioned.

Granted, and I've had my fair share of knock down, dragged out fights with my editors, including in my current book, but that's part of the job of editor: knowing how to communicate ideas to frustrated authors. Half of editing is communications, building confidence in the author while also educating him in the process. It's a tough sell sometimes, but it's a necessary part of the job.

In my own case, the harder I fight, it's a sign that I don't fully understand the underlying issue yet.

I prefer push back from editors. If they bring me something that I'm not clear on, I'll clearly state why i use that technique, but I expect them to back up their arguments if I don't get it. Sometimes simply saying 'comma splice' won't mean much to an author, and a quick wiki lookup on the term isn't very informative. But if your having trouble with his story, so will most of his future readers.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Then they shouldn't ask for beta-readers or editors.
They don't have to agree, but they shouldn't be confrontational.

Don't confuse confrontational with confusion. Often, when someone thinks they're doing the right thing, they'll try to justify their usage. They'll only agree to change when they finally learn why what they're doing isn't standard English grammar.

By the way, my editors continually go back and forth about commas vs. semicolons, which is generally a round-about way of dealing with comma splices. Generally, the best way to deal with them is to break the sentence up into two distinct sentences, but if there are conditional clauses involved, it's often difficult to break them up cleanly. That's why I'll state my position, along with my current understanding of the underlying issue, and present an alternative, expecting further pushback from the editor if I'm incorrect. But I expect pushback, sometimes forceful pushback. I might have to be dragged, kicking and screaming to the stream, but once they, I'll drink my fill!

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

What's worse si when an editor tells you of an issue and you fix, but introduce a new error while doing so.

That's why, whenever I 'fix' a sentence (i.e. rephrase it, rather than simply taking the suggestion that the editor offers), I'll show the new sentences with the differences clearly marked. Unfortunately, editors don't always catch the new mistakes, since they're already reading ahead and miss them, but at least I recognize I'm liable to introduce new typos with each correction and try to control for them.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I'd flag the sentences, but rather than flagging an entire chapter, I'd flag about three,


We're talking Beta-reader here, not editor. I actually don't want my Beta-readers editing. Sure, if they find something, jot it down, but what I want from them is much broader. I want to know if they liked the story, if there were plot holes, if the characters were believable and did they like/hate them, etc. If they're editing while reading I'll lose that perspective.

That's why I said the comment to the author should be something like, "The story was … however, all the comma splices made the narrative jerky and difficult to read."

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

That's why, whenever I 'fix' a sentence (i.e. rephrase it, rather than simply taking the suggestion that the editor offers),


One of the issues with just taking the editor's worded change is it's rarely in your way of writing and will stand out as weird to many readers. I've seen that in some stories where the occasional phrase seems out of place due to a different writing style.

Back to Top