So I’m sitting on the can reading BE COOL by Elmore Leonard and come across this quote: "You just put down what you want to say, then you get somebody to add the commas and shit, fix up the spelling if it needs it. The way this one’s going I think it’ll write itself."
Chili Palmer and his buddy Elaine are discussing writing screenplays, but the whole enchilada gets me thinking about punctuation (after I scoff at the idea that anything writes itself. Yeah, right.).
Many posts on Murderati have to do with the art of creating crime fiction — and our blog’s readers enjoy these insights — but commas, well, they affect us all. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing the Great American Novel or a thank-you to Grandma Rose, you put a comma in the wrong place and your meaning gets shot to smithereens.
Don’t get me started on misplaced periods. And colons? Forgettaboutit.
I bet everyone reading this post, everyone surfing the Internet, has some bugaboo — some grammatical tic — that makes him or her seem super-special or sound super-stupid.
Me? I’m a recovered ellipses addict.
Right now, I’m fond of the em-dash. My first drafts always look like abacuses, those little lines are — well — everywhere. (Parentheses can make life worth living sometimes.) Commas are pretty fun, too. No, really, I mean it. And, a couple of years ago I learned about the joys of semicolons and now I can’t seem to stop myself from using them for lists; to clarify divisions between commas; to connect two similar thoughts; to spice things up. If you get my drift.
I’m not even going to get into misspellingg; that’s totally, like, digesting. (No. I didn’t mean that.) Disgusting. (Yeah, that’s it.) Oh, and that leads me to using the wrong word. Talk about a criminal. (Darnit! Did it again.) It’s a crime.
And then there are all the rules we break on porpoise, um, purpose. But, you must know what I’m talking about here. Sentence fragments. The prepositions that other sentences end on.
Yet, I’ve never been interested in studying books about commas ‘n’ sh*t. I think some mistakes, or deliberate grammatical snubs, make for good reading.
The problem is when the reader becomes too aware of the tricks, when the punctuation distracts from the storytelling. I don’t care if it shows a writer’s cleverness or devotion to propriety — if I notice the punctuation/grammar — I’m knocked out of the read. And, I usually resent it.
So, what about all of you?
What grammatical crimes do you consistently commit?
Which ones drive you bonkers when you see them in someone else’s work?