Monday, June 18, 2012

Ask the Editor: Introducing a Character and Run-on Sentences


For the summer schedule, Ask the Editor will be on the 3rd Monday of the month. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and more! I will showcase questions and answers. To ask a question, please fill out the form below.

I've been a freelance editor since November 2010. If I don't know the answer, I will find it.  

Michael Offutt asks, “Is it okay to keep a character that doesn't add to the story as long as you plan to use him for something big in a later book? I don't like to introduce a character and then use him for the something big five minutes later. I like to set the stage. The thing may be asking too much from the reader to expect something of a character that they don't get payoff for immediately.”

It's hard to tell without reading the scene and knowing the character’s importance in book three. My instinct says if a scene doesn't serve a purpose to further the plot, characters, etc., then it should be cut. At the same time, you shouldn't just drop a big character in book three without at least a mention in book two to prepare people. There are several ways to do this. Either put the character in a more important scene and introduce him/her that way or make the scene that character is in more important besides just introducing the character. It is possible the scene is fine as is, though, since it technically does serve a purpose (entering the character into the novel), even though that purpose doesn't truly appear until book three. It's a difficult call to make.

Rachelle Ayala asks, "Hi Cherie, I'm helping to vet books, and I'm noticing a lot of run-on sentences. Is it okay? Or are these indies wrong? I know that in my MS there were a few places you removed the comma if the independent clause was very short, like two or three words.

Am I getting too old? Is the new style to allow run-on sentences?"

The rule generally goes if you have two independent sentences joined by a conjunction you should add a comma before the conjunction. You can do away with said comma if the first part is less than five words long. The reason you don't have to do a comma then is that people don't need to take a pause when it is so short, such as "She smiled and he couldn't help but grin back." 

Stylistically, those types of sentences wouldn't have to have the comma, if the writer feels there is no pause between the two. 

True run-on sentences are when there are two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction, such as "He writes she edits." OR "He writes, she edits." The last one is a comma splice.

The thing about commas is that there are few hard and fast rules about them. True, there are reasons why you don't use commas in places, but the tendency nowadays tends to move toward less commas. Some commas have become more vocative than actually necessary. And those longer sentences with two or more independent clauses could really use the commas to create that pause.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Agree with you on the first question - give the character more to do. As for run-on sentences, those drive me crazy.

Rachelle Ayala said...

Hi Cherie, thanks for the clarification. As an indie, we have to "prove" that our work is edited. Sometimes it sacrifices voice, but if a reader thinks I made a mistake, it could cloud her thinking about me, my book, and all indies.

Even Chicago Manual of Style 6.28 allows omission of commas when the clauses are short and related.

As for the first question, I think it's okay to put him in a short scene with a bunch of other characters and use him later on. But if you introduce him alone, it does set up expectations that he is of some import in the current book.

Christine Rains said...

Great answers! I'm no fan of run-on sentences either.

G Blechman said...

Haven't popped over here in a while, but I like the Ask the Editor theme. Informative. I'll have to come back more often. :-)

~Gina Blechman

Jennifer said...

I'm terrible with commas, I just throw them in anywhere I feel like it. Thanks for the tips. I'll try to keep them in mind.

Unknown said...

I too am terrible with commas, (could it be something with the name Jennifer?), but, I'm trying.

Got my copy of A to A Flashes of Foxwick. Can't wait to start reading.

Unknown said...

I love commas -- just like the cute little things in my sentences. The only thing I love more are adjectives, but alas, my Cps make me weed those things out of my ms's. But at least my commas are safe! lol