I was once known as the Grammar Queen. I shared that honor with my friend Leslie. We knew the rules, which is important if you want to break them. The comma thing is particularly vexing. Rules change at the drop of a hat. Ditto for dashes.
But writing fiction, and especially creating dialog, requires that you hear where commas are needed and leave them out where they aren't. No matter what Mr. Strunk and Mr. White might think, sometimes, in fiction, you have to break the punctuation rules.
That's why I love this blog post from Cheryl Klein about using commas. It's taken from a book she's about to publish, and I'll be first to check that one out! As Ms. Klein, super editor at Scholastic says:
The ENEMY to sentence rhythm: the wrong punctuation..
Recently I received a critique from a highly regarded agent (not mine!) commenting that I should check for "typos" in my manuscript. Me? The Grammar Queen? I was insulted. But I knew exactly what he referred to-- those commas that separate compound sentences. I'd left them out intentionally. It just didn't sound right.
Joan talked and Julie listened. Glory raced upstairs and Frankie followed her.
Now I know those could use a comma, but it destroys the rhythm of the sentence. At least the way I hear it in my own head's voices! And Cheryl Klein gives even more excellent examples.
It's a short blog post. Click on over there and read. And whether you like serial commas or not, at least we writers need to know what they're intended for in the first place.
You do remember serial commas, don't you?