Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Comma Crazy? Then read like Ben Stein!

Okay, so if that title didn't scare you away, welcome. This post is gonna give you a sure-fire way to understand exactly where you should be placing the dreaded COMMA--and where you shouldn't.

About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to snag an internship at a publishing house (score! though, that score! would be SCORE! if it were a paying position...but I digress), and since then, I've had the pleasure of reading several submissions from some very talented writer hopefuls. Overall, said submissions have been well-written, with interesting plots and some great characters. But in almost all of them, the one thing that's been consistently lacking is, you guessed it, comma placement.

Now in no way am I saying I'm a genius when it comes to commas (or writing, plotting, characterization, grammar...you get the idea). But I do think that the method I use helps (at least, it helps me). And I thought "Hey, this could maybe help other people, too." Hence, today's post.

Well that covers the "Comma Crazy?" part of this post's title, so let's move on to that whole "Ben Stein" thing, shall we? Now...this is where it gets interesting (or weird, depending on your level of sanity. Note: if you're not a tiny bit crazy, you may wanna stop reading.)

Ben Stein. We all know him, we all love him (if you have no clue who I'm talking about, you should really stop reading--and go watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off--RIGHT NOW.). We've seen him in everything from Ferris Beuller to Win Ben Stein's Money to kid shows like The Fairly Oddparents. The man has been everywhere, and we've enjoyed him immensely. 

And why, you might ask, is that? The answer is simple:

That Voice.

You might not recognize him walking down the street, but I guarantee you that if he spoke, you'd have no doubt. Mr. Stein has one of the most recognizable voices in the world, a raspy monotone that leaks into every part he plays. And it's that monotone that drives this post today.
(come on, who doesn't remember this?)

As writers, I'm sure we've all heard that reading your work out loud helps with things such as pacing, sentence structure and dialogue, right? But there's also a way for this tip to help with those horrifying little slashes known as commas. Sure, you might notice comma placement while reading aloud. But chances are you won't, since most of your focus will be on the aforementioned things. So I suggest giving it a read again.

Only this time, Read Like Ben Stein.

Yes. You read that right. If there's a particular line in your WIP that you just can't get to sound right, it could very easily be because of your commas. A comma not only helps with the way a sentence is structured, but also with the way it sounds. Putting a comma in to give a pause can add emphasis or dramatic affect, which will certainly help boost the mood you're going for in a scene, no?

So give that dry, humorous, brilliant monotone a try. Using monotone will help you avoid putting your own pause in, thus forcing you to rely on those commas. It will make it painfully clear if you've stuck one in the wrong place, because without dramatic inflection in your voice, your scene will sound like a really badly-structured one if those commas are incorrect.

But a word of advice?

Don't do this in front of others. If you do, you may get this reaction:

Might I suggest following the man himself, Mr. Bueller's lead, and just use the shower. You know, like a normal crazy person. 


Jordan Dane said...

Ha! I'll never punctuate without hearing Ben Stein in my head. Not sure that's a good thing yet. Maybe when I'm in the shower with my soap mohawk I'll appreciate it.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Haha! So hilarious! And there's some good advice in there, amongst the silly. :) Great post Jamie, and very unique!

Anyone seen this before? Anyone? Anyone? ;P

PJ Hoover said...

Love it! I find the whole comma use thing so funny :) It's like geek humor, but about punctuation.

Jordan Dane said...

I'm feeling really frisky. Let's talk about semi-colons.