Oh, the comma.
Writers fret over punctuation, and there are few tools we use more than our curvy little pal. I’ve been accused more than once of overusing commas. I refer to the process as “Shatner-izing” my writing. It gives, it, more, dramatic, effect!
Star Fleet captains aside, here are some basic rules to live by when using (or not using) commas in your writing. For this post, the theme will be “aliens”.
Use Commas to Separate Elements
“The alien fired the laser, laughed, and kicked the piles of dust that were once humans.”
Commas can be used to separate lists of elements that could potentially confuse a sentence, or just read poorly if they are separate actions that occur in sequence. The last comma in the sentence is known as a serial comma or an Oxford comma if you want to get all fancy and British about it. The general rule is a list of three or four, but there could be more if you want to get crazy.
Use Commas with Coordinating Conjunctions
I’m quite proud of the subtle segue I made in that last sentence up there. Commas can also be used with conjunctions to connect independent clauses
“The first saucer was destroyed, but more ships were on the way.”
Destruction may be inevitable, but at least our conjunctions are all sorted out.
Sidebar: The conjunction and is the one I always get crap about from editors and other writers. Given the pacing and structure of the sentence the comma isn’t always needed, but I tend to throw them in anyway. The rule is err on the side of commas. It may unnecessary, but it’s NEVER wrong.
Use Commas for Introductions
Commas are great for adding intro elements to a sentence. These can add flair, especially to action sequences (which require a minimum 37 pieces of flair).
“His energy sword crackling, the Venutian barbarian began his berserker rage!”
(I tossed some alliteration in there just because.)
Use Commas for Additional Information
If you want to add some additional information, or flavor text, that wouldn’t otherwise change your sentence, you can bust it in there between a pair of commas.
“The Martian commander, overseer of the armada, gave the signal to attack.”
I hope this advice was helpful. If so, here are some of my other Writing Tip posts.