Monday, July 18, 2005

Modern Gothics ~ The Lure of Darkness

GOTHICS
-- Dark Romances, Dark Erotica, and Dark Fantasy...

When physical reality, the world we live in, is so very terrible -- and it is, quite terrible, why do we seek out these Dark Gothic Fantasies in Fiction? Why do these shadowed stories hold such fascination for so many?

Because, in truth, Gothics have nothing to do with Physical Reality - and everything to do with the reality of the Human Soul.


If you can't handle the Darkness...
- Get out of the Attic.

Gothic tales are metaphors, proverbs, fables, and fairy tales for Spiritual Reality; the Nature of the Soul, Goodness and Evil in its purest forms, the hidden and buried Nightmare side of the Human Psyche. The parts of our souls we don't want to face.

Ask any 8-year old how big their boogie man can get -- the longer he isn't faced.

EVERYONE has shadows locked behind the secret doors of their mind -- memories of Bad Things that happened to them, or to those they know. And the more one DOESN'T look at the darkness hiding under the bed (sexual issues), or in the attic (violence issues,) or in the basement (physical health issues) or in the closet (family issues) the bigger and badder they get.

Every parent knows, the only way to deal with Fear of the Dark, is to peer into the darkness and face what's there.

Gothics are both a warning of what lurks in the shadows, and a guide through the darkness.

Why Vampires and Werewolves
- and things that go BUMP in the night?

The Paranormal is the perfect vehicle for a GOTHIC because the villain of the piece – the Paranormal character – is a perfect physical representation, a symbol, of a dark Human Issue.

Every Gothic monster you can think of is in actuality, a symbol of a Human Issue from the dark side of the psyche.
Ghosts = Memories that ‘haunt’
Vampires = Manipulative Male Sexuality
Witches =Manipulative Female Sexuality
Sorcerers (Scientists) = Sanity - either total Loss, or Over-Control
Werewolves = Passions that Consume
Urban Faery = Rebellion against the norm. (This is why Urban Faeries tend to have a ‘punk’ look to them.)
(What? So, I read a lot of Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary)

DRAMA rather than Gore...

Anything that combines magic and the paranormal (a Dark Human Issue,) and a modern, to futuristic, back-drop, is a Modern Gothic. Anything that deals with “dangerous power” is a Dark Fantasy. 

However, the darkness in a Gothic tale is not expressed and defined by graphically detailed, and gruesome, violence, as it is in a Horror. The Drama of Angst rather than the Action of Violence is the vehicle of the Gothic.

Why must 'Bad Things' happen...? 
To Face a Nightmare - one must Have a Nightmare.

Both Horror and the Gothic tales delve into the painful ‘emotionally traumatic’ secrets so Bad Things, rape, abuse, hate..., Emotional Trauma in all its forms, appear in these stories.

-- And SEX.  

Sex is the most commonly used vehicle -- in both Reality & Fiction -- to deliver both Joy (love) and Despair (rape), so naturally they appear in these stories too.

But these nightmares conclude with either REDEMPTION or DESTRUCTION. The Brave save the day, the Foolish die, and the Guilty are Punished, usually horribly.

"But real life isn't so neatly tied. 
Bad people get away with Bad Things."

True. Real life ISN'T so neatly tied. Bad people DO get away with Bad things. That does not change the fact that - Evil IS Bad -- and the Wicked SHOULD be punished.

Gothics are modern-day, unsanitized, fairy tales filled with the horrific punishments that the original fairy tales held: Punishment for the wicked, Rescue for those locked in the dark, and Redemption to those who have living, breathing shadows, within themselves

GOTHICS -- a Necessary Evil.

Morgan Hawke
www.darkerotica.net
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, July 11, 2005

Is DESCRIPTION Really Needed?


If you have Action and Dialogue, do you really NEED Description too? What is the difference?

Let me show you...
The Layers of Fiction

Dialogue Only
"Himawari-chan, I have your lunch!"

"Ah, Watanuki-kun!"

"Here you go Himawari-chan!"

"Thank you, Watanuki-kun!"

"You are very welcome, Himawari-chan."

"I see. Of course. Thank you, Yuuko-san. Do I need to tell you what she said?"

"No! No, you don't, and I don't want to hear it! I don't need a freaking baby-sitter!"

"Yuuko thinks you do."

"That's her! Not me!"

"Are you a fortune-teller?"

"No! Of course not!"

"I'll come get you after class. I'll get the instructor to let you wait while I practice."

"What? No! I said I don't want to wait…!"

"You gonna eat that?"

"Yes I am!"

"Tea."

"I do not, not, NOT take orders from you!"
This is "Talking Head Syndrome". There are no dialogue tags because I don’t use them.


ACTION with Dialogue
Lunch time found Kimihiro walking around to the back of the school carrying the three lacquered wood bento boxes.

Himawari was already at their chosen spot.

Kimihiro couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. He waved. "Himawari-chan, I have your lunch!"

Himawari looked over at Kimihiro smiled. "Ah, Watanuki-kun!"

Doumeki came from around the opposite corner of the building. He was talking on his cell phone, or rather, grunting into it.

Kimihiro sighed.

Doumeki's gaze found Kimihiro's and his eyes narrowed.

Kimihiro felt the small hairs on his arms lift. He turned away to unwrap the bento boxes and offered Himawari a box. "Here you go Himawari-chan!"

Smiling, Himawari took the box from Kimihiro without making any physical contact. "Thank you, Watanuki-kun!"

"You are very welcome, Himawari-chan." Watanuki sighed and pulled out cups.

Doumeki strode up to stand before Kimihiro. "I see. Of course. Thank you, Yuuko-san."

Kimihiro looked up and his mouth fell open. The iced tea he was pouring spilled slightly over his hand. He grabbed for a paper napkin to wipe at the small mess.

Doumeki snapped the small phone closed, and tucked it into the front fold of his gi. He held out his hand.

Kimihiro shoved the bento box at him.

Doumeki took the box from Kimihiro's hands and his gaze narrowed on Kimihiro's face. "Do I need to tell you what she said?"

"No! No, you don't, and I don't want to hear it!" Kimihiro turned away and flopped cross-legged onto the spread blanket at Himawari's side. "I don't need a freaking baby-sitter!" He pried open his bento box.

Doumeki moved to Kimihiro's immediate right and stepped into the space between Kimihiro and Himawari. He settled cross-legged on the blanket with a grunt, seating himself between them.

Watanuki rolled his eyes.

Doumeki turned and his gaze locked on Kimihiro's. "Yuuko thinks you do."

Kimihiro felt his hackles lift. He scooted back. "That's her! Not me!"

Doumeki's gaze narrowed to slits. "Are you a fortune-teller?"

Kimihiro stared at him. "No! Of course not!"

"I'll come get you after class." He turned away to pry open his lunch box. "I'll get the instructor to let you wait while I practice."

Kimihiro stared at him open mouthed. "What? No! I said I don't want to wait…!"

Doumeki picked up the chopsticks and started shoveling food into his mouth with one hand. He plugged the ear on Kimihiro's side with the pinky finger of the other.

Kimihiro ranted and raved until he was red in the face.

Doumeki continued to eat with one ear plugged.

Kimihiro added kicks and gestures to his gripes and complaints, and even tried writhing on the ground.

Doumeki turned to face Kimihiro. "You gonna eat that?" He pointed at Kimihiro's full bento box.

Kimihiro grabbed for his food. "Yes I am!" He snatched up his chopsticks and stabbed it into his box. Glaring at the larger boy, he shoved the piece of food into his mouth and chewed.

Himawari burst into giggles.

Doumeki held out his hand. "Tea."

Kimihiro reached for the thermos and a tea cup then froze. He turned to glare Doumeki.

Doumeki continued to hold out his hand, his gaze unwavering.

Kimihiro handed him the cup of tea.

Doumeki took the cup of tea, and the slightest of smiles curved his mouth.

A hard shiver skittered up Kimihiro's spine. He jerked his gaze away.

Doumeki's gaze drifted down to his teacup, and announced what he'd like for tomorrow's lunch.

"I do not, not, NOT take orders from you!"

Doumeki's reply was yet another smile.

Himawari giggled.

Tanpopo chirped.
In the first one, you could HEAR what was happening, like a Radio Show. In the second one you could HEAR and SEE what was happening, like a black and white TV.

Shall we put it on the Big Screen?


DESCRIPTION with Action, & Dialogue
Lunch time found Kimihiro walking around to the back of the school carrying the three lacquered wood bento boxes wrapped in a large cloth in one hand, and the thermos of chilled jasmine tea in the other.

Himawari was already at their chosen spot under the tree. She knelt on the small picnic blanket, neat and prim in her stark black skirt and white summer top, while talking cheerfully to her tiny bright yellow bird, Tanpopo, Dandilion. The ultra-feminine black coils of her sumptuous mane spilled down her back and tumbled down around her lap. Two small coiling tails bound with yellow bows framed either side of her impishly sweet face.

Kimihiro couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. So cuuute! Himawari was everything a pretty girl should be, and she was just as sweet as she appeared. He waved. "Himawari-chan, I have your lunch!"

If only she didn't have that…condition.

Himawari looked over at Kimihiro and her smile was as bright as the sun. "Ah, Watanuki-kun!"

The tall, broad-shouldered, and pointedly masculine form of Doumeki came from around the opposite corner of the building. His short-cropped black hair gleamed blue in the sunlight. He was dressed in the white keiko-gi top and ground-sweeping black hakima trousers of his Kyudo, archery club uniform. Apparently, he'd spent the last period at the archery range. He was talking on his cell phone, or rather, grunting into it. His gaze was somewhere off in the distance and lips were turned slightly downward.

Kimihiro sighed. That was Doumeki for you. He appeared to only ever show one of two expressions, if he had an expression, an almost-scowl, or an almost-smirk. Of the two, the smirk was worse; it was downright disturbing.

Doumeki's gaze found Kimihiro's and his golden eyes narrowed.

Kimihiro felt the small hairs on his arms lift. He's staring at me in that creepy way again. It was enough to very nearly sour Kimihiro's appetite.

Yuuko had once asked him, "What don't you like about Doumeki?"

Kimihiro couldn't very well tell her… "Because he stares at me like, he wants to hit me or do something…else, something embarrassing and vulgar. When he smirks, it's worse. It's like, he's laughing at me, and about to do something vulgar. On top of that, when he actually talks what he says never goes with the look on his face. And he does it all the damned time!"

It sounded stupid even in his thoughts.

He turned away to unwrap the bento boxes, slapped on a sunny smile strictly for Himawari, and offered her a box. "Here you go Himawari-chan!"

Smiling, Himawari took the box from Kimihiro without making any physical contact. "Thank you, Watanuki-kun!"

"You are very welcome, Himawari-chan." Watanuki sighed in contentment and pulled out the small plastic cups for the tea. Lunch with sweet, adorable, completely predictable Himawari was the highlight of his entire day.

Doumeki strode up to stand before Kimihiro and his voice deepened to a base growl. "I see. Of course. Thank you, Yuuko-san."

Kimihiro looked up at his nemesis and his mouth fell open in shock. Doumeki was talking to Yuuko? The iced tea he was pouring spilled slightly over his hand. Startled, he grabbed for a paper napkin to wipe at the small mess. He knew, he just knew, Yuuko had told Doumeki to walk him back. That conniving, controlling, over-protective…

Doumeki snapped the small phone closed, and tucked it into the front fold of his gi. He held out his hand, clearly asking for the bento at Kimihiro's side.

Selfish bastard… Furious, Kimihiro shoved the bento box at him.

Doumeki took the box from Kimihiro's hands and his gaze narrowed on Kimihiro's face. "Do I need to tell you what she said?"

"No! No, you don't, and I don't want to hear it!" Kimihiro turned away and flopped cross-legged onto the spread blanket at Himawari's side. He would not, would not, look at him. "I don't need a freaking baby-sitter!" He pried open his bento box, determined to eat and enjoy some cheerful conversation with Himawari.

Doumeki moved to Kimihiro's immediate right and stepped into the space between Kimihiro and Himawari. He settled cross-legged on the blanket with a grunt, seating himself between them.

Watanuki rolled his eyes. One might suppose that Doumeki was merely keeping the two from coming into accidental physical contact, which would trigger Himawari's rather volatile and highly dangerous condition. However, Watanuki knew for a fact that Doumeki had done it simply to annoy him.

Doumeki turned and his golden gaze locked on Kimihiro's. He was so close Kimihiro could actually feel his body heat. The scent of soap and temple incense drifted from him. "Yuuko thinks you do."

Kimihiro felt his hackles lift. He scooted back, away from Doumeki's unnervingly warm presence. "That's her! Not me!"

Doumeki's gaze narrowed to hard gold slits. "Are you a fortune-teller?"

Fortune-teller? Kimihiro stared at him. What the hell…? "No! Of course not!"

"I'll come get you after class." He turned away to pry open his flat black lunch box. "I'll get the instructor to let you wait while I practice."

Kimihiro stared at him open mouthed. "What? No! I said I don't want to wait…!"

Doumeki picked up the chopsticks and started shoveling food into his mouth with one hand. He plugged the ear on Kimihiro's side with the pinky finger of the other. Clearly, Doumeki was not listening.

Kimihiro ranted and raved until he was red in the face.

Doumeki continued to eat with one ear plugged.

Kimihiro added kicks and gestures to his gripes and complaints, and even tried writhing on the ground.

Doumeki turned to face Kimihiro with absolutely no expression on his face what so ever. "You gonna eat that?" He pointed at Kimihiro's full bento box with his chopsticks.

Kimihiro grabbed for his food. "Yes I am!" He snatched up his chopsticks and stabbed it into his box blindly. Glaring at the larger boy, he shoved the piece of food into his mouth and chewed with extra emphasis.

Himawari burst into giggles.

Still completely expressionless, Doumeki held out his hand. "Tea."

Kimihiro reached for the thermos and a tea cup then froze. Son of a...! Who does he think I am, his damned wife? He turned to glare at the overgrown pain in his butt.

Doumeki continued to hold out his hand, his gaze unwavering and clearly expectant.

Kimihiro handed him the cup of tea.

Doumeki took the cup of tea, and the slightest of satisfied smiles curved the very edge of his mouth.

A hard shiver skittered up Kimihiro's spine. He jerked his gaze away. He hated it when Doumeki looked at him like that; like he'd done something both pleasing and perverted at the same time.

Doumeki's gaze drifted down to his teacup, and in a completely emotionless voice, he announced what he'd like for tomorrow's lunch.

Kimihiro very nearly threw his bento box at him. "I do not, not, NOT take orders from you!"

Doumeki's reply was yet another of those smug half-smirks.

Himawari's giggling and Tanpopo's amused chirping did not make Kimihiro feel any better.
Why did I not include Internal Narration
-- Until I got to the Description layer?
 
Because Internal Narration is the POV character's opinion of the events happening around them.

Most authors include Internal Narration; but many, MANY of the same authors forget that the POV character's physical observations -- what they see, and experience -- belongs in there too, not just what they thought about it.

Once you add Description to your Dialogue and Action, you add depth perception. Instead of the reader merely being an observer, someone who can hear and see what's going on like a movie, Description allows the reader to step into your characters' skin and become a participant in the story.

Get it? Got it? GOOD!

Enjoy!

For WHERE & HOW MUCH Description to put in...
Go To: Tricks to Tight 'Sneaky' DESCRIPTION


Morgan Hawke
www.darkerotica.net
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, July 04, 2005

An Unkindness of COMMAS



I SUCK at using commas big-time. I tend to pull a "Mark Twain"; I sprinkle them wherever, to break up the monotony of the sentence. This article is my attempt to hammer the rules into my brain. Think it'll work?

What the heck are Commas for, anyway?


Besides abusing the sanity of the writer, the comma exists to help readers organize information in a sentence. It makes all the stuff the author is trying to say, easier to swallow. Without them, sentence bits and pieces collide into one another, causing confusion; rather like a train-wreck, though not nearly as exciting.

To get a good idea of how the comma is used, let's take a look at what it’s supposed to do, and some major screw-ups.

Doing it Right

1. Commas separate items in a Series.
  • The werewolf had fleas, a couple of ticks, and a very slight case of mange.

2. Commas separate two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, so...,)
And the comma goes IN FRONT of the word -- not behind it!
  • Several vampires were writhing on the dance floor, and a dozen more were scattered about the bar.

3. Commas set off introductory clauses and phrases.
  • When the gargoyle crashed through the plate glass window, the housewife handed him the broom to clean up his mess.

4. Commas set off non-restrictive (non-essential) clauses, phrases, and modifiers from the rest of the sentence.
The restrictive (essential) clause:
  • Two fallen angels dangling from the church tower were throwing rotten tomatoes at the gargoyles.
Non-restrictive (non-essential) clause:
  • Chateau Dracula, located in the green hills of Tuscany, hosted the new vampire prince’s inauguration.
5. Commas separate descriptive modifiers of equal rank.
If you can use your adjectives interchangeably, and can put in an "and" between them, you can put a comma there instead. Fair Warning: Some editors will prefer an "and".
  • The Court simply could not predict the next activity of the fickle, explosive vampire prince's mom.
6. Commas set off parenthetical expressions.
(Stuff that could be put in parentheses, but isn’t.)
  • The werewolf council members, you may recall, voted themselves a 35 percent pay increase last year.
7. Commas are used when the absence of a pause can cause confusion.
  • For the ghosts that haunted the chateau, moving the chairs around in the dining room was exhausting work.
8. Commas are used to set off participle phrases that modify some part of the independent clause.
  • Participal Phrase = Stuff in a sentance, that can't be a sentence by itself.
  • Independent Clause = Stuff in a sentence, that can be a sentence all by itself.
Full Translation: Commas set off the stuff at the end of the sentence, that changes the meaning of the stuff at beginning of the sentence.
  • The Vampire Court adjourned, having successfully defeated the bill that would have taxed imported medical blood.

Doing it Wrong

1. DON’T use a comma to separate two independent clauses WITHOUT a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, so...,).Doing this makes a nasty "comma splice".
  • The inflation rate dipped to 3 percent, the unemployment rate stayed constant.

Instead of a Comma…
a. Use a semicolon (;)
  • The number of vampires dropped by 3 percent; the werewolf population rate stayed constant.
b. Those too chicken to try a semicolon, may use a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, so...,) with a comma BEFORE it.
  • The number of vampires dropped by 3 percent, but the werewolf population rate stayed constant.
c. Using a period (.) is another option.
  • The number of vampires dropped by 3 percent. The werewolf population rate stayed constant.

2. Don’t use a comma to introduce a subordinate clause.
Putting a comma before the word "because" is one of the biggest offenders.
  • The vampire princess decided to visit the protest site because she needed a first hand report.
But...! If the subordinate clause is being used to introduce the sentence, a comma does go at the end of the introductory phrase.
  • Because she needed a firsthand report, the vampire princess decided to visit the protest site.

3. Don’t use a comma to separate a noun or pronoun from its reflexive.
  • The werewolf king will discipline the pack himself.
4. Don’t use a comma between a word and a phrase to create a "false series."
A confusing False Series:
  • The archeologists discovered seven bodies, six medieval knights, and one court jester.
(WOW! That’s a lot of bodies!)

In proper perspective with an Em Dash ( -- )
Some people put spaces on either side of the em-dash, some don't. Ask your editor what they prefer.
  • The archeologists discovered seven bodies -- six medieval knights, and one court jester. (With spaces)
  • The archeologists discovered seven bodies--six medieval knights, and one court jester. (Without spaces.)
5. Don't use a comma in front of a partial quotation.
  • The candidate for court wizard charged that the incumbent was "a charlatan of the lowest order."
BUT...! If the quotation is a full sentence, you DO use a comma – in front of it:
  • The incumbent for court wizard remarked, "How would you like to spend the rest of your existence as a leaky pot?"

Teasers:
Do the following sentences need commas? When? Where, and WHY?

1. Teratology the study of deformities derives its name from the Greek word for monster.

2. Hearing the wolf howl caused Zach to look up in anticipation and delight.

3. Gothic music has a distinctly European sound yet it has often received more attention in Tokyo than in Paris.

4. All roads may lead to Rome but the vampire and his designated victim got hopelessly lost trying to drive there from Naples.

5. Dracula Tower one of the finest examples of soaring art deco yet gothic architecture in North America is located in New York New York.

6. The most hard working of all the haunts in the chateau she despaired when others received substantially higher praise.

7. You know I can't tolerate such behavior Vladimir.

8. Exhausted and penniless the vampire stared at the brightly lit interior imagining a warm fire a bed with clean white linens and a willing Reubenesque victim wearing nothing but handcuffs and a smile.

9. It was a charming older home whose medieval decor enhanced its gothic character.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I DON'T expect you to submit the answers to the Teasers! Those are for YOU to play with.

For more on Commas, also see:
COMMAS - The (Not-So) Quick & Dirty Guide
Compiled by Erin Mullarkey, Editor of Loose Id Books

Morgan Hawke
www.darkerotica.net
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

COMMAS - The (Not-So) Quick & Dirty Guide


From a list of sources compiled by:
Erin Mullarkey, Editor, Loose Id Books

Everything in blue was shamelessly lifted directly from the listed sources.

Some Basic Definitions

Easy Writer, 2nd edition
Andrea Lunsford
Noun:A word that names a person, place, object, concept, action, or the like.Pronoun:A word used in place of a noun.
There are many different kinds of pronouns:
  1. Indefinite - any, each, everybody, some
  2. Personal - I, you, he, she, it, we, they
  3. Possessive - my, mine, our, his, hers, your, their
  4. Relative - who, whom, whose, which, that, what, whoever, whomever, whichever, whatever
Clause: A group of words containing a subject and a predicate.Independent clause: An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence.
  • The car hit the tree.
Dependent clause: A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence, and is dependent on an independent clause.
  • The car hit the tree that stood at the edge of the road.
In this sentence, that stood at the edge of the road can’t stand alone as a sentence; it depends on the other clause (the car hit the tree) to mean anything.
Subject: The noun or pronoun and related words that indicate who or what a sentence is about.Predicate: The verb and related words in a clause or sentence. The predicate expresses what the subject does, experiences, or is.
  • Morgan bought cotton candy, and Erin rode the elephant.
This example sentence has two clauses. The first clause is Morgan bought cotton candy and the second clause is Erin rode the elephant.
In the first clause, Morgan is the subject, and bought cotton candy is the predicate. Both clauses are independent, because they can function all by themselves and don’t need the other clause to be complete.
USING Commas
The Elements of Style, 4th editionWilliam Strunk Jr. and E.B. White:
In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last. Thus write:
  • Red, white, and blue
  • Gold, silver, or copper
  • He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents.
This comma is often referred to as the “serial” comma.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 15thedition

The comma…indicates the smallest break in sentence structure. It denotes a slight pause. Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of readingthe end in view.
Serial comma examples from 6.19:
  • She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.
  • The owner, the agent, and the tenant were having an argument.
  • The meal consisted of soup, salad, and macaroni and cheese.
  • John was working, Jean was resting, and Alan was running errands and furnishing food.
NOTE: this last one is a little different, because Alan is doing two things. A pair of actions that are joined by “and” don’t need a comma.
If everyone was doing more than one thing, the sentence could appear like this:
  • John was working and talking, Jean was resting and thinking, and Alan was running errands and furnishing food.
Eats, Shoots and LeavesLynne Truss:
You do NOT use a comma for:
  • It was an endangered white rhino.
  • Australian red wines are better than Australian white ones.
This is because, in each of these cases, the adjectives do their jobs in joyful combinations; they are not intended as a list. The rhino isn’t endangered and white. The wines aren’t Australian and red.

Parenthetic or Transitional
expressions

Easy Writer:

Parenthetical expressions add comments or information. Because they often interrupt the flow of a sentence, they are usually set off with commas.

  • Some studies, incidentally, have shown that chocolate, of all things, helps to prevent tooth decay.
Transitionals are words such as however and furthermore and other words and phrases used to connect parts of sentences. They are usually set off with commas.
  • Ceiling fans are, moreover, less expensive than air conditioners.
  • Ozone is a byproduct of dry cleaning, for example.

The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing, 3rdedition

By reading your sentences aloud in a natural voice, you can generally identify parenthetical material interrupting the flow of a sentence. Such material should be set off by pairs of commas. The following are common examples of interrupting material:
Contrasting Elements Introduced by but, not, or although
  • The man at the front desk, not the mechanic, was the one who quoted me the price.
Word of Direct Address, yes and no, and Mild Interjections
  • I tell you, Jennifer, your plan won’t work.
Tag Phrases Citing Sources
  • This new car, according to the latest government reports, gets below-average mileage.
Attributive Tags Identifying Speaker
  • “To be a successful student,” my adviser told me, “you have to enjoy learning.”

Elements of Style:

Never omit one comma and leave the other. There is no defense for such punctuation as
  • Marjorie’s husband, Colonel Nelson paid us a visit yesterday.
Or
  • My brother you will be pleased to hear, is now in perfect health.
In these examples, the parenthetic expressions (Colonel Nelson and you will be pleased to hear) should have had a comma before and after them.

Introductory elements

Easy Writer:

In general, use a comma after any word, phrase, or clause that precedes the subject of the sentence.
  • In Fitzgerald’s novel, the color green takes on great symbolic qualities.
  • To win the contest, Connor needed courage.
  • Pens poised, we waited for the lecture to begin.
  • Suddenly, Anisha remembered the answer.

Separating Independent Clauses

Easy Writer:

A comma usually precedes a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, or yet) that joins two independent clauses.
  • Scientists have studied AIDS for more than twenty years, but a vaccine still eludes them.

Chicago Manual of Style
6.32:

  • We bolted the door, but the intruder was already inside.
  • Everyone present was startled by the news, and one man fainted.

6.33

When a sentence is composed of a series of short independent clauses with a conjunction joining the last two, commas should appear both between the clauses and before the conjunction.
  • Donald cooked, Sally trimmed the tree, and Maddie and Cammie offered hors d’oeuvres.
Notice that in all of the examples, the independent clauses are joined by a conjunction like and, or, but. You cannot use a comma by itself to join together two sentences (two independent clauses.) This is called a “comma splice.” (Put a semicolon there, instead of a comma.)

The Elements of Style:

If two or more clauses are grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction are to form a single sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.
  • Mary Shelley’s works are entertaining; they are full of engaging ideas.
  • It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.
It is, of course, equally correct to write each of these as two sentences, replacing the semicolons with periods.
  • Mary Shelley’s works are entertaining. They are full of engaging ideas.
  • It is nearly half past five. We cannot reach town before dark.
If a conjunction is inserted, the proper mark is a comma.
  • Shelley’s works are entertaining, for they are full of engaging ideas.
  • It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach town before dark.

Nonrestrictive elements

Easy Writer:

Nonrestrictive elements are clauses, phrases, and words that do not limit, or restrict, the meaning of the words they modify. Since such elements are not essential to the meaning of the sentence, they should be set off from the rest of the sentence with commas.
Restrictive elements, on the other hand, do limit meaning; they should not be set off by commas.
Restrictive:
  • Drivers who have been convicted of drunken driving should lose their licenses.
The clause ‘who have been convicted of drunken driving’ is essential to the meaning because it limits the word it modifies, Drivers, to only those drivers who have been convicted of drunken driving. Therefore the clause is not set off by commas.
Nonrestrictive:
  • The two drivers involved in the accident, who have been convicted of drunken driving,
    should lose their licenses.
In this sentence, the clause who have been convicted of drunken driving is not essential to the meaning because it does not limit what it modifies, The two drivers involved in the accident, but merely provides additional information about these drivers. Therefore, the clause is set off with commas.
To decide whether an element is restrictive or nonrestrictive, mentally delete the element, and then see if the deletion changes the meaning of the rest ofthe sentence or makes it unclear. If the deletion does change the meaning, you should probably not set it off with commas. If it does not change the meaning, the element probably requires commas.
Basically, look at your sentence and see if there are parts that are “extra” and not strictly necessary.
  • John, wearing a dark gold cloak, gestured to Georges, who was wearing a skintight, electric blue bodysuit.
In that sentence, the information I included about the clothes they are wearing is for descriptive purposes and not essential. I could just say “John gestured to Georges”, and the meaning of the sentence is exactly the same. That’s why I used commas to set off my descriptive phrases.
But check this out:
  • The man wearing a dark gold cloak gestured to the man wearing a skintight, electric blue bodysuit.
If I tried to take out the clothes descriptions there, I would end up with “The man gestured to the man”, which isn’t very helpful or clear. I need the clothing information to distinguish which man is doing what. So, I didn’t use commas, because the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Odds and Ends
Allyn & Bacon
Use commas to separate sentence elements, when failure to separate them would cause confusion.
  • Confusing: Every time John ate his dog wanted to be fed too.
  • Revised: Every time John ate, his dog wanted to be fed too.
Do not use a comma to separate a subject from its verb.
  • Faulty: The man in the apartment next to mine, swallowed a goldfish.
  • Revised: The man in the apartment next to mine swallowed a goldfish.
Do not use a comma after such as.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Amazon links to the books referenced:
Strunk & White - this is a great little book that no writer should be without.
Easy Writer - I used this in a college class; it’s a great quick reference with easy-to-understand language. It gets to the point quickly.
Allyn & Bacon - this was a college textbook on composition; the stuff I pulled out of it all came from a small reference section in the back.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves - a must-read. It’s hilarious and gets the point across clearly.
Chicago Manual of Style - Loose Id Books has adopted this as its style manual. This is the definitive manual on anything you could possibly need to know about grammar and style.
The absolute best online help source, the Purdue Online Writing Lab, has tons of interactive exercises.
Twenty common writing errors and explanations of the rules.
Another really fun grammar site is The Elements of Phyle.
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For More on Commas, see also:
An Unkindness of COMMAS

Morgan Hawke

www.darkerotica.net
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