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The Oxford Comma Is Dead. Long Live The Oxford Comma
by Namaste (namasteyoga)
at June 30th, 2011 (11:54 am)

OK, so Twitter rumors of the Oxford comma's death may be premature but I thought I use it as an excuse to open a discussion on grammar, punctuation and other pedantic issues.

(Also to apologize for not having posts here for a bit. I've been having an unpredictable life the last few months.)

Obviously a clean story with no typos, grammar mistakes or misplaced punctuation is a wonderful bonus on top of a well written fic. But how important are those issues to you as readers? Do those problems take you out of a story -- bringing your inner copy editor/beta to the surface so you can't escape into it? Are you willing to let it go as long as the story flows?

I'll note that I've noticed that a lot of professional fiction will often play fast and loose with the standard rules (with the understanding that these writers must know how to write properly to begin with to know what they can then trim for whatever editorial reasons). "Lord of Misrule," the novel that won the National Book Award for fiction in 2010, uses no quotation marks, for instance.

Oh, and for full disclosure -- I come from the Associated Press Stylebook side of comma use, so I don't use the Oxford Comma, but have come to a measure of acceptance for others' preferences.

Comments

Posted by: knitty_woman (knitty_woman)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)

I do have a strict inner censor, but I'm willing to overlook some grammatical errors if it's a good story (a common one is "it's/its", which even some of my favorite authors confuse from time to time, as well as incorrect punctuation of dialogue). I have a much harder time with run-on sentences and misplaced punctuation. If I start reading a story and find more than a few misspellings and poorly punctuated sentences within the first two paragraphs, I'm done. It's just too distracting.

Posted by: Topaz Eyes (topaz_eyes)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 05:49 pm (UTC)
Leonard Cohen song

If the fic is overall well-written, I can overlook the occasional SPaG mistake or typo. That said, the fic's on notice from the first mistake on; if I see too many mistakes I'll back-click. For me, SPaG is part of the flow.

And yes, writers have to know the rules first before they break them. Usually I can tell when that's the case.

Posted by: Namaste (namasteyoga)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)

I'm thinking of putting together a "breaking the rules" fic challenge, partially based on this powerpoint presentation in "A Visit From The Goon Squad" that makes up an entire chapter of the book, but also completely works.

Not that people would have to do powerpoint, but something non-traditional. Still in the thinking phase about that just now.

Posted by: Topaz Eyes (topaz_eyes)
Posted at: July 1st, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
H/W-don't wanna push this

Including song-fic? *ducks and hides*

Posted by: ReadingRat (readingrat)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC)

Why should a typo or a grammatical error bother me if the meaning of the sentence is not obscured? Nevertheless, it does bother me. The reason is that when I read, I get immersed in the text, so I don't consciously notice the text any more. A typo or a grammatical error pulls me out of that immersion. Punctuation bothers me a lot less. That's probably because it isn't my strong point either, so I'm much less likely to notice mistakes.

Authors whose style and subject matter I like generally make very few mistakes. So either bad grammar and spelling affects my reception of style and content or there is a correlation between the ability to grasp the linguistic rules of a language and the ability to write a decent literary text.

Posted by: flywoman (flywoman)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)

Typos and grammatical errors jump out at me, and if there are many, I'll abandon the effort pretty quickly. That suggests to me a lack of care and attention to detail that are likely to become obvious in the content as well as the style, and I also feel like it implies impulsivity and/or failure to enlist a beta for one of any number of reasons, none of which are good.

In the past, when I've found an author whose perspective I really enjoyed but whose work tended to have multiple minor errors, I've volunteered my services as an editor, hoping that it would make their stories more accessible and attractive to other readers as nitpicky as myself.

Posted by: Namaste (namasteyoga)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)

Do you find that writers are open to editing when you offer? I've had mixed responses -- some people are anxious to improve and respond well to tips and concrit, and others seem to see it as some kind of an insult because you're/I'm saying their writing isn't perfect.

What kind of approach do you take when opening that offer?

Posted by: flywoman (flywoman)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)

I've had good luck with the "I love your work/you have such great ideas but the typos can be distracting at times, so if you would be interested in having me beta read your fic in future, just let me know!" approach.

The people I approach already know that their writing isn't technically perfect. Offering to clean up their spelling and punctuation is usually appreciated, whereas suggesting that they should be telling their story differently would probably not be ;).

Of course you're right that some people genuinely want to improve their writing in response to concrit, whereas others are insulted by feedback that isn't 100% positive. And then there's the most frustrating group (imo): those who request concrit but then are too stubborn to change anything in response to one's well-meant suggestions ;).

Posted by: pwcorgigirl (pwcorgigirl)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 08:53 pm (UTC)
flying V

The occasional small error doesn't bother me if the story is very well written, particularly if the error appears to be a typo, as is often the case with it's/its since spellcheck won't flag that one.

A large error will send me reaching for the back button because it's too jarring and knocks me out of the flow of the story. It's even worse if the error is at the beginning of a fic. The other night I was reading a fic (not in the House fandom) that had been beta'd three times, yet the first sentence had a very noticeable comma splice. I could not stop thinking about that damned error and finally bailed out of the story about a quarter of the way through.

While we're on the topic of grammar, Grammar Girl's Tip of the Day is a lot of fun. :)

Posted by: srsly_yes (srsly_yes)
Posted at: June 30th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)

Since my own fingers seem to have a mind of their own (I'm thinking "your" but I type, "you're"), I don't get distracted very much by those issues. Two or three misspellings are okay, but it depends how compelling the plot is. What pulls me out of a story the most are logic errors.

Edited at 2011-06-30 09:37 pm (UTC)

Posted by: freddie_mac (freddie_mac)
Posted at: July 1st, 2011 12:19 am (UTC)
s6_robindoll

Here's another vote for "the darn errors kick me out of the fic". An occasional grammatical error here & there isn't a problem, but if the first two paragraphs are riddled with them? That's why we have the back button. Other things that will kill a fic for me? Characters that are OOC without an explanation (i.e., a short-tempered & nasty Wilson or lovey-dovey House, take-charge Chase, wishy-washy Foreman) and contextual errors.

By "contextual errors", I mean that the writer isn't paying attention to where the fic is located. Most House fic will take place in/around New Jersey, so I expect basic knowledge that you can find with Google or Wikipedia. If they never leave the hospital or an apartment then the writer is 99% off the hook. The river btw Jersey & NYC is the Hudson, you can drive into NYC via a few tunnels; from south Jersey, you can drive into Pennsylvania. Granted, I live in Jersey so I deal with many of these aspects on a daily basis, but if a fic is set in Canada (hearkens back to Wilson's days at McGill), then I'd expect basic knowledge about that area.

I started reading a fic in another fandom several months ago, and ran smack into several contextual errors: Americans don't have mobiles or flats (unless you mean homes or tires), Washington DC is not a state. I was willing to overlook the Brit-speak, but not calling DC a state. To me, that was on par with a non-Brit moving the Thames, Cambridge, or Buckingham Palace.

Posted by: freddie_mac (freddie_mac)
Posted at: July 1st, 2011 12:20 am (UTC)

Just to clarify ... Chase *can* (and would be expected to) have a flat or a mobile (meaning phone or apartment)

Posted by: ReadingRat (readingrat)
Posted at: July 1st, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)


and ran smack into several contextual errors: Americans don't have mobiles or flats (unless you mean homes or tires)
I agree with you if it's about direct speech. An American character would be unlikely to use such terms. But if the narrator chooses to use those terms, I'd say it's okay. I see no reason to pretend to be an American narrator when I'm not. (Okay, author and narrator aren't the same thing, but nonetheless, an omniscient third-person narrator of a House fanfic does not necessarily have to be an American.)

Another problem is that in order not to use non-American terms in one's fics, one has to be aware of the fact that the terms one is using aren't used in the US at all. Now one can check up terms that one suspects of being BE (or whatever), but unless one already has a sneaky suspicion that 'parcel' or 'pram' might not be in use across the Atlantic (or Pacific, as the case may be), then one won't do that. Now I really can't remember, for every word I use, whether I've ever heard it on 'House MD' or whether the characters on House always use a different term. My problem is solved to some extent by having American betas, but if someone says, 'Well, dang, I don't get paid for this, and I'm not going to bother to find an American beta just to exorcise my Britishisms when I write perfectly good English,' then that's fine with me.

Posted by: freddie_mac (freddie_mac)
Posted at: July 1st, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC)

I blame most of my thoughts about contextual errors on the years spent immersed in Harry Potter fic, where there was a concerted effort (on many fronts) to ensure that Harry et al. sounded like Brits and not California surfer dudes or Valley girls.

I understand that writing fic is a hobby, and respect the people who make a good faith effort to maintain the tone of the original source material. I freely admit that I've gotten pickier over the years -- people who make a good faith effort are the ones that I'll take the time to read/comment; those who don't, I ignore and we're all much happier that way.

Posted by: Topaz Eyes (topaz_eyes)
Posted at: July 2nd, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
Leonard Cohen song

For me it's a question of fic setting. Narration is part of the overall fic setting--IMHO the narration should reflect the words and idioms the characters would use, not the author. For me it adds authenticity and context to the fic. Most fics I've read (and written) are from one character's POV, so IMHO this is especially important.

I've written in Harry Potter and Doctor Who, where non-British writers are more-or-less expected to Brit-pick their fics. If the fic were in another English-language fandom, I'd want the writer to use country-specific words and idioms in the narration. E.g., in a fic narrated from the POV of a Canadian character in a modern Canadian fandom, I'd want the narration to describe the character going to a Timmys and ordering a large double-double. If the narration described that character going to a Tim Hortons and ordering a large coffee with two cream and two sugar, I'd be thrown out of that fic. (OTOH, if the fic were in the same fandom, but narrated from the POV of an American character, the latter would be okay.)

Posted by: yarroway (yarroway)
Posted at: July 1st, 2011 12:56 am (UTC)

I'm with everyone else about the errors. A few here and there don't bother me. I know I mess up too. More glaring mistakes, like 'coach' in place of 'couch' can be a little jarring. Apostrophe abuse bothers me, too (its/it's aside). I don't mind things like flats and lifts because it's generally clear what the meaning is and I enjoy learning the new terms.

Issues of logic and characterization bother me far more.

Posted by: Topaz Eyes (topaz_eyes)
Posted at: July 2nd, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC)
grammar and spelling

I'm glad to hear the rumors are premature, otherwise: Goodbye, Oxford comma? Hello, Shatner comma!

XD

Posted by: felis_nocturna (felis_nocturna)
Posted at: July 2nd, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
House smirk

THAT, is, awesome. XD

Otherwise, can I just say that I love the Oxford comma? It's the only English punctuation rule I ever looked into, everything else goes by intuition and extrapolation from my own language I'm afraid.

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