Carla Acheson

Historical Fiction Author

badcommaEvery hard working writer awaits a vocabulary crisis of some sort. Whether it’s in the first draft, last draft or the subsequent proof-reads, we know that something intrinsically painful usually awaits us at a junction ahead.

The one that I acutely remember, with distinctly shivering glands, is the ‘comma crisis!’

Oh yes! Never ever again will I underestimate the power of that little black splat on the screen.

It was just a casual proof-read one night of a random chapter, which right up to that point had been pretty fabulous. For the ten millionth time I casually read it over, but this time, right out of the blue, every single comma looked WRONG!

Now I don’t know why this comma meteorite struck me right there and then, it leapt out so unexpectedly I panicked. I re-read and re-read and re-read the same page, but each time I did, I began to doubt those comma placements in every single sentence. Something was terribly wrong! They looked like they were all in the wrong place?

Or were they?

Were they really?

Or is it me?

And that is where the crisis began.

Now instead of taking a break from the book (for about two months) and letting it sleep peacefully whilst I renewed damaged brain cells and regained some sort of healthy perspective… No… I just go absolutely berserk and re-read the chapter a few more million times until the comma has turned into a rabid monster!

By the end of this twenty-four hour stint where the rest of the world has ceased to exist, I look like I have been electrocuted by a thousand volts. And to make matters worse I completely lost the basic ability to even understand what a comma is! I start to fervently believe that all my sentences are badly spliced, or maybe they aren’t? Or maybe it’s just me?

Oh God I need help.

So, after years of writing some really good work and assisting fledgling writers, I suddenly have to google….what is a comma?

Oh the shame.

And it faithfully throws a few sentences at me that explains my sudden lack of comprehension.

A comma splice is the use of a comma  to join two independent clauses. For example:

It is nearly half past five, we cannot reach town before dark”

Okay that’s pretty simple. But are all my sentences badly spliced? Which half is independent, which half is not?

What about the entire NOVEL?

And that’s it! It dawns on me that the serial comma is at my door, braying for blood! The crisis has only just begun and his assistant, the little red devil holding a bag full of commas in one hand and a pitchfork in the other, is poking at my head with glinting teeth and a self-satisfied smirk.

There are over half a million commas to worry about, and for no sane reason I am suddenly very hugely unsure about each one. Sigh.

So I start to hack at them…and I mean HACK… reading over a single sentence multiple times… deleting, adding, deleting adding… and so on.. until the ‘comma crisis’ hits its peak when my husband returns from work and sees me slumped over my desk wailing hysterically and blubbering foolishly about ‘my commas.’

When I am finished he calmly raises one eyebrow and says;

“Eh, you’re losing it babe, FORGET the commas, the commas were FINE.”

Oh sweet heavenly bliss..

Okay, no doubt he was lying to save me from my torture, but that’s okay! I decided to believe him right there and then because I was just THIS close to wearing a straitjacket!



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