Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Putting Commas In and Taking Commas Out



Behold, a preview of the book—a photo of the first ever proof of Avempartha—the only one of its kind in the world.

The last two weeks have been like cramming for finals. After receiving the edited version of Avempartha back from the publisher, Robin and I proofed it ourselves and found a number of errors as well as numerous needed edits. When you are proofing a book you wrote for final publication, this sort of thing drives you nuts. Oscar Wilde once said; "I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out." This about sums up the final proofing stage.

The English language, while governed by rules, is often vague and capricious about those rules. As a living language, it is based on what is most commonly spoken and as such, the rules can change. What is written also alters the language-scape as well. Shakespeare invented scores of new words that became part of the common language such as: antipathy, critical, frugal, dwindle, extract, horrid, hereditary, excellent, eventful, barefaced, assassination, lonely, leapfrog, indistinguishable, and zany, not to mention a host of words that never before had the prefix “un” in front of them such as unmask. More recently J.K. Rowling’s “muggle” and “Quiditch” entered the dictionary. Writers frequently and intentionally break the rules of grammar as well. Most authors consider the “complete sentence” rule more of a guideline. Cormac McCarthy refused to even use quotes and commas in his prize-winning novel, The Road.

All this leaves fiction writing far more an art than a science and like art, the results are often subjective. What this means is that a lot of completely random decisions are made. Does that “had” really need to be there? Sure, it makes the sentence clearer, but it doesn’t sound as good and interrupts the overall flow. Technically, I should put a comma between those two adjectives, but commas form roadblocks for readers and the pace will be wrong. The outcome of all this is that a writer can spend the rest of his life dinking with the words—taking out commas just to put them back. Meanwhile, fans are beating on the door like villagers after Frankenstein. It has to go out—but oh no! How did that “surly” get in there, it’s supposed to be “surely!”

I’ve read Avempartha three times in two weeks, and I’m not a fast reader. The house looks like a dorm room with empty pizza boxes and dead cans of soda. With both Robin and I killing ourselves to get this release out as close to on-time as possible we’ve done nothing but work on it. I edit text in my dreams now. I edit my own thoughts. I have actually edited other people’s verbal speech. “You know you don’t need to use the word ‘and’ twice in that sentence.” People look at you strangely when you do that.

So what am I doing wasting time writing this blog? The final proof of Avempartha was approved and released for printing yesterday. Now comes the hush before the storm. The nervous waiting. The period of anxiety before the first reviews. Nothing to do now but cross my fingers and hope.

2 comments:

  1. How exciting! Now I'm getting excited for the book's release!

    For what it's worth, I totally know what you mean about the editing process. Having been a copy editor for several years, it can be tedious. But it's so worth it - a well-written book (in my opinion, at least) respects the language. And that makes it more user-friendly, to use a techno term in relation to reading! LOL

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  2. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm, and it is really nice to know someone is reading this stuff.

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