Commas and Typos – Redux

I hope that this is the last time I have to write about typographic errors, but quite frankly I doubt that I will ever be free of the chore. They breed like wild boars in a forest and forever root around in all of the text like it is swill in a trench.

But, it may be the last time I have to write about them in context to Cobra Flight.

If you click on the Categories list in the sidebar and then on Writing-Skills you will find several entries about my unfortunate experiences with typos in publishing the book. One entry in particular has an unfortunate and premature title .

As I neared the end of doing the voicing of Cobra Flight for the audiobook I resolved to send the manuscript yet again to a proof-reader before I shipped it off to be turned into a paperback.

I was, however, quite confident that I had nailed every one of the little bastards and doing another proofread would be for reassurance only.

Now, keep in mind that the manuscript had been through my own, not inconsiderable editing skills, a professional copy-editor, and two experienced proofreaders. In addition, just about every piece of grammar checking software I could find had been let loose. And then in the recording phase I had found what I believed were the remaining bastards.

So, imagine by chagrin, shock, and anger, when it came back to me with 1,062 errors flagged in MSWord Tracking.

That was a staggering number of errors and I was ready to just drive an oaken stake through the black heart of the book and walk away.

But, on closer inspection I saw what had gone on.

You have to understand that there are two approaches to writing and those approaches affect how words are edited, and how they are handled.

Formal prose is the sort of thing one would find in a weighty non-fiction treatise. The other approach is focused on clarity of communication and is suited more for things like novels than 15 thousand word New Yorker Magazine essays.

My third proofreader was very much from the world of Correct Grammar and the precise use of punctuation. My two other proofreaders were the other way, as well as being blind of course.

I write, or I try to write, very much as how an itinerant story teller would spin yarns and myths around the fires of the Golden Horde as they swept out of Asia to massacre Europe; the way people tell each other ghost stories late at night around the fire at the weekend cottage. It is the way that good radio and television personalities reach out and grab listeners by the ears so they cannot pull away from the story.

Unfortunately, the people who write grammar books, who make up rules about punctuation, who use strict language usage rules to establish power over others, never seem to read novels, so they miss the point.

My writing bible is the Chicago Manual of Style. While there are other style guides out there, none are as comprehensive and so widely accepted.

No one ever got tossed into the grammar dungeons for following the guides in the CMOS.

But, one needs to keep one’s head when reading it.

The section on comma usage is 16 pages long and contains something like 35 sections about this or that and whatever involving commas. All worthy stuff if you are editing for the New Yorker, but a sticky tar pool of disaster for the novel writer.

The authors of the CMOS recognize this and make a crucial point, which seems to escape the understanding of pendants.

This is how the editors introduce the comma section.

Section 6.16

“ … it usually denotes a slight pause. … Effective use of the comma involves good judgment , with ease of reading the end in view.” (My emphasis)

Let’s just scoot over to end of the chase where we cut them off at the pass.

I did a bunch of spot checks in the list of suggested changes and then decided I didn’t have enough time to see where I might have misused a comma. Instead, I hit Accept All Changes and accepted the fact that while I would never have sprinkled commas around the way this proofreader thought proper, no one was ever going to come after me for being pedantic, whereas they would if their beady little nazi eyes spotted a Rick Grant induced comma error.

I’ve mentioned this before in context to typos, but Sod’s Law, requires there to be typos in this post as well as the microscopically checked Cobra Flight, so don’t complain.

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