Behold the Power of the Comma!
Contributor
Written by
Densie Webb
September 2010
Contributor
Written by
Densie Webb
September 2010
Warning: This post contains a spoiler for The Passage by Justin Cronin. If you haven’t read it yet and don’t want any secrets, no matter how small, revealed, then read no further. If you’re the one person left on the planet who hasn’t heard about The Passage yet, it’s a 700+ page-first-in-a-trilogy-apocalyptic tale of a world in which virals, vampire-like creatures, are accidentally let loose to run wild and rule the night. They are not Twilight-like creatures that are the objects of teenage girls’ sexual fantasies. These are nightmarish creations that will suck you dry in the blink of an eye…if they don’t turn you into one of them first. But, I digress from my point about commas. Like all wannabe writers, I’m a sucker for language. Just the right turn of a phrase, the perfect sentence, the perfect adjective, the perfectly placed paragraph break. Or in this case, the perfectly placed or perfectly omitted comma. Out of Mr. Cronin’s 700+ beautifully written pages, the thing that gave me that zinger, that tingle, that aha moment, was a comma, which was used to such great effect, that it provided a whole family history of two of his characters with that one little punctuation mark. Two characters in the book are brothers, Theo and Peter. The reader is given the impression that Theo is the stronger of the two and that is reinforced, when it is revealed that on their mother’s deathbed, she said in Peter’s presence, “Take care of your brother, Theo. He’s not strong, like you.” Peter assumes through the years that she was delusional and thought she was speaking to his brother, Theo. But in a pivotal moment, brought on by life events, his memory shifts, comes into focus. He realizes his mother’s words were actually, “Take care of your brother Theo. He’s not strong, like you.” As a reader and a writer I was overwhelmed with the power of that single comma. Leave it in and the family history is written one way. Take it out and the family dynamics shift in another direction. As a reader, your perception of the two characters are immediately altered. One comma. That’s all it took. Right now, I’m in the middle of Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. She examines that very thing. How single sentences, paragraphs, repetition of words and yes, punctuation can have a powerful impact on the story and each word, each sentence, each paragraph should be carefully weighed. It’s an inspiring read, filled with specific examples from the likes of Woolf, Hemingway, Carver, Austen, Roth, Kafka, just to name a few. The more I read about writing, the more I realize there is to learn. But learning to read like a writer is number one on my list. 0.000000 0.000000

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