Pedantics #2

I wasn’t intending to have another pedantic rant just yet, but this issue is bugging me rather a lot at the moment. I’m reading a book right now that I’m thoroughly enjoying. I can hardly put it down. It’s rich, colourful, heartrending, riveting, and with a superbly realised protagonist. I want to be full of nothing but praise for it, but there’s a fly in the otherwise pure ointment. I’m not going to name the book, because this isn’t a rant directed at an author in particular. If anything, it’s directed at the editor, but I’d still rather not name names. That said, it’s a well-regarded mainstream debut novel that has done deservedly well.

Now to the fly: it’s full of run-on sentences.

It also has scatterings of incorrect apostrophe use. There’s been some seriously sloppy editing here. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the run-ons. I understand how easily run-ons can form, but I don’t understand how any editor worth their salt can let one under the radar, let alone an epidemic of them.

A run-on sentence is not, as some people believe, a long, convoluted sentence. A sentence can be ridiculously long yet still be grammatically correct. Equally, a sentence can be quite short yet still be a run-on. A run-on sentence is defined as two or more independent clauses that are joined together without a correct conjunction or proper punctuation. So: ‘This is my blog I hope you like it.’ is a run-on sentence. ‘This is my blog. I hope you like it’ or ‘This is my blog; I hope you like it.’ are not run-ons.

Sometimes run-ons occur when plenty of punctuation is involved. It’s just not the right punctuation for the job. Here’s a sentence I wrote recently, slightly modified: ‘He was scrambling eggs wearing the Star Trek uniform apron I’d given him last Christmas, he had it on over his pyjamas.’ This is the type of run-on I’m seeing a lot in my current read. That comma shouldn’t be there. Ideally, it should be a full-stop instead, making those two independent clauses into independent sentences. Not only is that proper grammar, but it makes the read smoother. It creates balance and rhythm.

Whenever I read a run-on sentence I’m jolted out of the story. This isn’t just because of the little grammar siren going off in the back of my mind. It’s as much to do with the fact that rhythm is important in writing. It’s important in reading. It lets the images flow naturally and smoothly. Run-ons upset that rhythm. I don’t expect them to be there. Expecting a proper beginning and end to each clause is a completely unconscious part of reading, but when that element is missing it’s like driving over a pot hole you hadn’t seen. It ruins the smooth reverie of the preceding moments.

And it saddens me that a riveting, well-constructed novel is plagued with them when they should have been ironed out at the publishing stage.

If you’re interested in more detail about run-ons and how to avoid them, here’s a great article: What Are Run-On Sentences?

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2 thoughts on “Pedantics #2

  1. Excellent post. I think that I am as guilty of this as anyone writing in this but the key, and I’ve gotten much better here, the key to being attuned or aware to punctuation in this, if not every grammatical sense, is rhythm. And if you’re writing and reading your work again and again, not as a reader but looking for other issues, you can forget about the flow, the ease of passage as you move from sentence to sentence and line to line. Mark Steyn made the same point as well. Great writing has rhythm.

    • Definitely. If you can follow that rhythm and each phrase and sentence flows on to the next, you’re probably doing it right. Whenever there’s a break in that rhythm, chances are something needs to be fixed.

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