Tristram Shandy without the irony

[Jewels from Page 7]

I have, as is my wont, some comments to make about commas on this page – more in sorrow than in anger, Julian, more in sorrow than in anger.

But first, I must touch briefly on the grasp of narrative tension which Julian displays here. At the bottom of the previous page, Lise remembers Kristian being born – we then move further in analepsis to Lise remembering being pregnant, we reach Kristian’s birth for the second time, take a five year jump forwards to Lise’s father dying and her mother returning to Swansea, before galloping off in analepsis again to Lise’s parents meeting for the first time and moving to Denmark, and then jump forwards one last time, perhaps just for fun, to a rather random four years later when Lise was born.

Confused yet? You’re not the only one.

The best thing to do here, Julian, would be to tidy all this back-story up into one neat chronological summary.

Well, actually, to be brutally honest the best thing to have done at this point would have been to ask a professional editor to look at what you’d got, flinch slightly at their foul language, but then accept what they would have told you about not being a writer.

Anyway, back to the commas – more in desperation than sorrow, Julian, more in desperation than sorrow.

Her parents had stood by her, they loved their only child.

This is a particularly neat example of something with which Julian struggles. You do not use a comma to join two independent clauses; it should be a semi-colon (although my own rather avant-garde preference is for a dashing dash!). If it helps, Julian, those are independent clauses because they are capable of standing alone as sentences: Her parents had stood by her. They loved their only child.

Her father, whom she loved and worshipped was found drowned; his bloated body rising and falling with the river’s current.

More in sorrow than in anger, Julian. (Or was it desperation? I’m distracted). First of all, the comma is there after ‘her father’ because it is at the beginning of an interrupting phrase: ‘whom she loved and worshipped’. You also need a comma at the end of the interrupting phrase: Her father, whom she loved and worshipped, was found drowned. Because you wouldn’t, Julian, have the comma there otherwise: Her father, was found drowned. Or would you?!

And then the treat of a semi-colon; but a semi-colon that shouldn’t be there. Semi-colons join independent clauses, Julian (in this kind of usage), and ‘his bloated body rising and falling with the river’s current’ isn’t an independent clause. If only you’d shoe-horned a ‘had been’ in there, after ‘body’, you’d have avoided the noose on this one, although you’d still have been in the dock on charges of hamming it up.

There are, I’m sorry to say, further unnecessary abuses of commas on this page alone – and the bitter truth is that we have enough evidence by now to be sure that Julian simply doesn’t know how to use a comma correctly.

There are writers who can get away with not having a firm grasp of basic punctuation because something else about them makes an editor willing to do the work for them. They still need an editor to do the work for them, though.

The moral of today’s story is this: even if you self-publish, you should still get your work proofread by someone competent.

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4 Comments

Filed under The Society for the Preservation of Commas

4 responses to “Tristram Shandy without the irony

  1. “The moral” , dare I suggest dear readers , of this lengthy blog comment is that it is BORING!
    That’s the trouble with the ill – informed and often vitriolic opinion that dominate cyberspace whose sole purpose it seems to be is one of character assassination rather that serious comment , rather like, in fact the banter of a playground: discuss?

  2. Yes, getting punctuation right is dreadfully boring, isn’t it, Gill? But it has the rather valuable side-effect of helping people understand what you’re trying to say. If you have another go at your second sentence, and try to make it clear enough to be understood, we’ll get our monkeys to have another go at understanding it. 🙂

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