Showing posts with label commas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label commas. Show all posts

14 January 2020

Copyediting tips


A lot of editors wear one hat or another. They do developmental editing or copyediting. Not both. But not me. While I prefer developmental work, I also happily do copyediting. Helping make a manuscript consistent appeals to the anal-retentive side of my personality. (And while we're on it, yes, I know, that looks wrong: copyediting. It should be copy editing, don't you think? But the Chicago Manual of Style is what most (all?) publishers rely upon for fiction, and Chicago says to use copyediting and copyeditor. So I will here, even as I shiver while doing it.

Anyway ... it's late and I'm short on time tonight, so I'm going to quickly talk about two copyediting problems I spot all the time, not just in fiction, but on blogs and Facebook and, basically, everywhere. Both issues deal with when it's appropriate to set words or word phrases off by commas.

You think you know the answer? Let's see. I'm going to post some example sentences and you decide which ones are properly punctuated.

Example 1

A) My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.
OR
B) My short story, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," was published in 2018.

Example 2

A) My newest short story "Alex's Choice" was published in Crime Travel.
OR
B) My newest short story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

So what do you think? In each example, was (A) or (B) correctly punctuated? Based on a mistake I see often, I'll bet most of you (including you writers out there) said (B) for both. And I say to that ...

Buzz!

You lose that round. In Example 1, the correct answer is (A). But in Example 2, the correct answer is (B). Why? It all has to do with whether the story titles are necessary for the sentence to be clear.
A pot roast dinner because ... why not?


You set a story title (or any information) off with commas when that information is not necessary for the sentence to be clear. So let's look at Example 1. If I wrote it without the story title it would say: My short story was published in 2018. That would probably leave you thinking, "Which story are you talking about? You've had a lot of stories published. You even had more than one published in 2018." And you would be right, which is why you need to know the story title for that sentence to be clear. Since the story title is required, you don't set it off with commas. So the correct punctuation for the sentence in Example 1 is: My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.

Turning to Example 2, here's how it would read without the story title: My newest story was published in Crime Travel. Assuming again that you're familiar with my work, do you need the story title to know what story I'm talking about? Nope. I only have one newest story, so I don't need to say its name for you to know which story I'm talking about. Since the story title isn't necessary in that sentence, if I were to add it, the title should be set off with commas, as such: My newest story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

Think you've got it? Let's try again.

Example 3:

It's 2006, and I call my sister and say, "My short story was nominated for an award." She would congratulate me and know exactly which story I'm talking about because at that time I only had one story published. As such, if I'd included the story title in the sentence, it would have been  unnecessary detail, so it would have been set off by commas: My short story, "Murder at Sleuthfest," was nominated for an award.

But let's say I had two stories published in 2005. If I called my sister a few months later and said, "My short story was nominated for an award," she would ask, "Which one?" She can't tell which story I'm talking about because it could have been my first story published in 2005 or my second one. So I have to revise my sentence to make it clear: My short story "Murder at Sleuthfest" was nominated for an award. Since the story title is necessary for the sentence to be clear, it's not set off by commas.


Paul Rudd
Here's another example, just to be sure you've got it. Assume I'm not a bigamist and I'm married. Which is correct?

A) My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do.
OR
B) My husband, Paul Rudd, reads more than I do.

If I had just one husband (and if I have to make one up, Paul Rudd is a good choice), his name would be set off by commas because you wouldn't need to know his name for this sentence to be clear. If I had simply said "My husband reads more than I do," you'd know I'm talking about Paul Rudd.

But what if I were a bigamist? Then if I said, "My husband reads more than I do," you would rightly say, "Which husband? Paul Rudd or Robert Downey Jr.?" (If I'm going to be a bigamist, I might as well do it right.) So for that sentence to be clear, I'd have to say: "My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do." You'll notice there are no commas in that sentence because dear Paul's name was necessary for the sentence to be clear.

More Paul Rudd
Let's move on to something related: Which versus That. I see the word "which" used so often when the correct word in a particular situation is "that." When do you use "which" and when do you use "that"? If information is necessary to a sentence, you use "that" and no commas. If information is unnecessary to a sentence, you use "which" and commas.

Example:

I've just gone shopping and come home with one new blouse. I put it on and show it to my husband, Paul Rudd. (Set off by a comma because I'm no bigamist!) And he says, "Your new top is pretty." And I smile, pleased that he liked my new top. There was no confusion in our conversation. He could have said, "Your new top, which is blue, is pretty." But he didn't have to mention the color because I only bought one new top, so I know which top he's referring to. Since the color wasn't necessary for the sentence to be clear, the information was set off by commas and the word "which" was used.

You can never have
enough Paul Rudd
But what if I'd come home with two new blouses? I model both of them for Paul and say, "What do you think?" He replies, "Your new top is pretty." Instead of smiling, I say back, "Which one are you talking about? The red one or the blue one? You don't think they're both pretty? I spent hours looking for two tops I thought you would like, and you can't even bother to have a kind word for both of them, you son of a ..."

Oh, wait, sorry, back to grammar. So you see, Paul's declaration that my new top was pretty was ambiguous because I hadn't bought just one top. So I calmly ask Paul which one he's referring to, and he says, "Sorry, I should have been clear. Your new top that's blue is pretty. The red one's ugly as sin." Since the color blue was necessary for me to know which blouse he liked, the information was not set off by commas and the word "that" was used.

And now I'm off to therapy since I can't even have a happy marriage with an imaginary husband.

10 March 2014

It's Me Again, Margaret


by Fran Rizer


Three events yesterday inspired this post.  

First, I learned that my Monday SleuthSayer co-conspirator, Jan Grape, is sick, and I volunteered to fill in for her today. 

Second, while I considered what to write about, David Edgerley Gates commented on FaceBook that an editor has accepted another of his stories and has no problem with the opening scene being a lap dance but doesn't like the title "Heavy Breathing."
Sorry, David, I could be censored for using the other lap dance illustrations I found.

My mind sometimes bounces around like a ping pong ball, and the thought of heavy breathing immediately brought Ray Stevens's song "It's Me Again, Margaret" to mind.  In it, a young lady receives repeated phone calls--heavy breathing which always begin with a low, "It's Me Again, Margaret."  At the conclusion, the caller is arrested and allowed one phone call from the police station.  You guessed it! He dials the telephone (it's an old song) and whispers, "It's Me Again, Margaret." This led me to YouTube where I revisited that old song.  You can, too.

Warning:  This video will make you laugh if you have a slightly bawdy sense of humor and will appreciate the mention of chickens and Kool Whip and handcuffs.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wb2nZR6qbE

So, though I occupied this spot just last Monday and your name isn't Margaret, it's me again. I'm back in less than the usual two weeks' time.

Third Event

A Broad Abroad sent me an email with a link:  Grammar to hammer: Horror writers use every trick from aliens to zombies. Lynne Truss chose a talking cat. 
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/bgrammar-to-hammer-horror-writers-use-every-trick-from-aliens-to-zombies-lynne-truss-chose-a-talking-cat-9176652.html 

Problem Solved
Lynne Truss
Contrary to what you dear readers may be thinking, my topic today is not lap dances or obscene calls, but our best-selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves author Lynne Truss.

Cat Out of Hell, her first comic-gothic novella, was released February 27, 2014. A Google review describes it as "the mesmerising tale of a cat with nine lives, [sic] and a relationship as ancient as time itself and just as powerful."

I confess I laughed out loud at that comma.  The [sic] is mine. Aren't "a cat with nine lives" and "a relationship" simply compound objects of the preposition "of"? If so, why would there be a comma there?  I personally would be embarrassed and fearful of punctuation errors when speaking of Ms. Truss. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

I warned you that sometimes my mind bounces around, and there it went again. Back to subject:  A Broad Abroad's link is to an interview with Ms. Truss. I won't summarize it in detail, but it's well worth reading.  Of special interest to me is her reference to Steve French's Horror Writing 101: How to Write a Horror Novel.  I wish I'd known about that before I sent my horror effort to my agent. (David Dean, are you familiar with that guide?)

On Ms. Truss's website, she says:

           My big news is that I have written a comic horror
           novella for Random House's Hammer imprint--this
           is my first novel for about fifteen years, and writing
           it did feel like coming home at last.  It's called Cat 
          Out of Hell and published on February 27.  It is also
          a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime for two weeks in March,
          It concerns the mystery of a missing woman, a talking
          cat called Roger, a remote seaside cottage, and a
          nice retired librarian with a dog called Watson.  I
          fell in love with Roger, because he is not only 
          handsome and evil, but terribly, terribly clever.  But,
          of coursed, Watson is the hero because he is a dog."

Jan, I hope you're soon well.  David Edgerley Gates, can't wait to read that story.  A Broad Abroad, thanks for a topic for today. Everyone, I'm ordering Cat Out of Hell and will let you know what I think after reading it.

Until we meet again, take care of… you!