Thanks to Sean Ferrell for posting about this great resource on commas. Of particular note are the 10 Simple Rules for using commas. These rules were written with journalists in mind, but most are still fully applicable for novelists.
Things I learned:
- I wasn't aware of the "four words or more" part of rule #3.
- The "adjectives of equal rank" was an awesome clarifier with me in rule #5. Read the details on that rule for even better clarification -- the equal rank test that the professor suggests is wonderful. I had an intuitive understanding of this before, as most people probably do, but just relying on that was problematic when it came to looking closely at what were seemingly gray areas.
- Several aspects of rule #8 were a surprise to me, but they are not too relevant for most novels.
- Rule #10 was a surprise. I've seen that before, but had forgotten I could do that. I tend to just ignore that construction, a luxury not shared by journalists reporting on the verbatim speech of others. Interestingly, a very few exceptions to rule #10 exist, though they aren't mentioned on that site. For example: "Robert had had a chance to review the packet."
- Rule #9 actually is the only one that seems questionable to me when it comes to novelists. I know that journalists would write the following: "I live in Raleigh, NC, with my wife." Novelists, I've always though, should be writing: "I live in Raleigh, NC with my wife." Can anyone confirm that or tell me I'm wrong? I would like to know.
When I was in elementary and middle school, this sort of nit-picky punctuation seemed so boring to study. By high school, I knew I wanted to be a novelist, but everything was still so new that it was a real challenge to absorb it all -- and it still seemed quite dry. In college, I didn't study writing at all, unfortunately, so it's refreshing to see these grammatical rules again and realize that I'm now fascinated by them. Anything that helps make my prose more proper is of the highest order of interest these days!