On comma splices in dialogue.

Adding to my hammer to a knife fight grammar list: Comma splices in dialogue.


“I should be able to use a comma splice in dialogue, you horrid grammarian. People don’t speak using full conjunctions all the time. If I tell someone to bring me a jar, some marbles, vodka? Sure, someone might notice the missing ‘and’ there, but I’d never get so much as a funny look. People talk in comma splices all the time.”

“And yet, you are wrong,” replied the laughing grammarian.

“Let’s look at another example,” growled the bitter writer. “I’ll quote this line of dialogue for you. This one’s a semi-colon splice, and a comma splice.”

“Oh, this should be ripe,” exclaimed the cruel grammarian.

The bitter writer narrowed his eyes, but soldiered on: “I reached out to touch her face; felt her lips cool, her skin waxy.”

The grammarian favored the bitter writer with his most withering glare. “You cannot expect any reader or editor to tolerate such rubbish.”

“If it were prose, absolutely not,” replied the bitter writer. “But as I said before? This is dialogue. Express that line in prose, and any editor would be right to strike the splices down. But if I, or any person, were to read that line aloud as dialogue, explaining the moment to another character? Then assuredly any listener would understand.”

“And yet, you are wrong,” replied the laughing grammarian. “Whether or not the listener is listening, the reader is reading. And it is your responsibility, as the writer, to punctuate the dialogue.”

“But what of speech patterns, specific to a character? What of cadence, and rhythm to words that renders them beautiful to the eye, the ear, the heart? What of sounding like a human being, and not a collection of grammar rules?” lamented the bitter writer.

“No matter how the voice of the character sounds in your mind, it is your place to remember that the Reader is king. It is your place to ensure the Reader may read. Perhaps some lenient editor would allow it for the sake of stylistic choices,” scoffed the grammarian. “But you will find no such mercy from me.”

“You filthy grammarist!” howled the bitter writer.

The grammarian laughed on.

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