Bad, Spellcheck! Bad! (aka sleeping on the job)
I've been working on a manuscript for the past few weeks that has had some, shall we say, "challenges" when it comes to punctuation.
There have been a lot of commas. And ellipses that go on for seven or eight "dots." (Though - unlike the manuscript before this one, the ellipses were used in the proper places, instead of at the end of every line of dialogue.)
These are all pretty standard things to fix, though, and - in the case of the comma usage - can truly depend on the author's "voice" and writing style. Consequently, until I'm truly comfortable in the manuscript, I don't go about willy-nilly getting rid of commas.
What finally got me, though, was a question about commas that came through from the author.
Or, rather, it was a question about comas. You know... those long periods of unconsciousness often caused by traumatic accidents, or induced through medical means.
Yep. The author wanted to know why I kept removing the comas from his manuscript.
"Dude, I don't know what happened. I was reading along and suddenly I was just ... asleep!"
I kind of wanted to assure him that I didn't think his manuscript was going to put anyone into such a state of unconsciousness - but at the same time I wasn't sure whether some of the characters might not end up that way before all is over and done. (The revision process has been known to do that to more than one fictional person.)
In the end, I must admit that I simply explained that not every comma was necessary - and that sometimes it's better to break sentences into smaller pieces, or to use other punctuation (semi-colons or em-dashes, for instance) instead of commas - for the sake of helping readers to follow along.
Spellcheck. The only writing tool I know that can take a short pause between words and turn it into a traumatic period of unconsciousness.
If that's not a good reason to use it sparingly, I don't know what is.
Afraid that you might be under the influence of Spellcheck and unsure how to get out? Contact an editor! We can help break the spell and make sure that none of your commas end up causing comas. Just think of us as a bracing splash of water across the face of your manuscript - in a good way.