Too Many Commas

We interrupt your regular dish of Internet fiction commentary with a brief interlude …

I admit that I’m not happy with the latest writing on Novelr. I feel that it’s starting to become too stuffy; too pedantic. Of the past 7 posts, 3 contain arguments that lack clarity and structure, 1 is a note on a month-long absence, and all involve writing processes that felt much like shitting through a bloody anus.  Moments like these call for a close look at my sentence-level construction … and I realized that I was using far too many long sentences. Dammit! I say. Bad habit of mine … and in front of a live audience, to boot!

On Novelr, I realize that I’ve got periods where I write stuff that I’m happy with – even two years down the road – and I’ve got periods where I just can’t seem to express ideas in a clear, chatty manner. I notice, too, that these writus horribilis periods seem to coincide with the waning of the moon, and are always preceded by a chorus of howling wolves. (I, err, was joking). But allow me to put up a short style guide for future reference, one you can bludgeon me over the head with if I stray too far from the beaten path. Also, feel free to learn from my predicament.

The Novelr Style Guide

The following are several tenets that I shall attempt to maintain over the next couple of months:

  • This writer shall put a lid on multi-clausal, long-winded, over-comma-ed, unstructured, rantish sentences that, added together, create multi-clausal, long-winded, over-comma-ed, unstructured, rantish paragraphs. (Sorry – couldn’t help it … I swear that’s the last!)
  • This writer shall use short paragraphs as much as is feasibly possible.
  • This writer shall stop pretending he is writing for the New York Times. He shall be personal. And chatty. Oh yes, who doesn’t love a chatty writer?
  • This writer shall stop playing casual games whenever he thinks he’s got a massive case of writer’s block.
  • This writer shall ask good questions, and (hopefully) find unexpected answers to those questions.
  • This writer shall attempt to be funny. If he isn’t funny, then he shall at least die trying.

I’m not sure how successful this style guide would be, considering that I’m supposed to have developed a proper style by now. (I have, after all, been writing here for about 3 years already.) But then again I seem to lose my way after every major examination in my academic year. No harm going back to the drawing board, and hashing out that idiot of a writer’s block. I’ll let you know how it goes.

[Update]: Thought I’d add several other things that I’ve been doing here at Novelr. All of the above are writing-related issues, things that I’ve been grappling with ever since I took that study break late last year (yeah, I lost my sense of direction during that period, which should change … in a bit). But the ones below are stylistic decisions I made, on the fly, while producing this blog. See if you’ve noticed any of them:

  • Novelr is referred to as a separate entity. Never my community; always Novelr’s community. Never my writing; always Novelr’s wiritng. This is to remind myself that Novelr is supposed to be community-centric: the ideas and the discussions are Novelr’s, and hence belong to the community clustered around it.
  • There are three kinds of articles in Novelr: Commentary, Ideas, and Bookmarked! posts. Commentary is a post providing in-depth analysis of a 3rd party link; Idea posts are original content written specifically for Novelr’s audience; Bookmarked! posts are collected links that I think you’d find interesting. This is an internal categorization, mind; not something you’d find anywhere in the blog’s archives.
  • All posts must be edited at least twice before publication. Sometimes more after. If a large amount of restructuring is needed, the post will be updated with an (edited) tag attached to the title.
  • I try to respond to all comments all the time. Lately, however, this has been erratic. Sometimes you guys are better at hashing out an issue than I am, and I gladly take a backseat in such situations. 

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Category: Meta · Writing
  • Michael Rogus

    I can relate. Overly long sentences is a problem I am constantly wrestling with. I wish you luck on changing your habits.

    On the subject of trying to be funny…please no. Just be natural, conversational and informative and if that happens to be funny more power to you. Nothing takes me out of an article more than someone TRYING to be funny.

    But what do I know? Do what makes writing enjoyable for you. Just wanted to drop my two cents in the bucket.

  • http://clarekrmiller.digitalnovelists.com Clare K. R. Miller

    Ooh, I can beat somebody over the head with grammar?! Excellent.

    I look forward to your new and improved writing. Can’t say I noticed any problems specifically at the time, but I’m sure shorter sentences will make the articles easier to read.

  • Sonja

    Don’t beat yourself up too much. You’re still finding your voice, which is always an adventure.

    Well, sometimes.

  • http://brainhandles.com Greg Bulmash

    Short paragraphs are awesome. Short, direct, active sentences rock. But brevity is the means to an end, not the end itself.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Michael: thanks. This post was really just me trying to loosen up. I’ve forgotten how to do that, along with many other things (like getting that bloody pen of mine to cut. Those. Sentences. Short.) And, don’t worry – I never really was that funny anyways. ;-)

    @Clare: This post was supposed to be funny! (nods to Michael from here)

    @Sonja: I think all of do that, really. But I was looking through Novelr’s archives and I realize that my past articles, before taking the study break, were snappier and easier to understand. I’m trying to work my way back to that.

    @Greg: Yessuh. Duly noted. =)

  • Jan Oda

    I adore long sentences. But that’s because I can’t loose the Dutch style, even when I’m writing English… So maybe you should put one multi-clausal, long-winded, over-comma-ed, unstructured, rantish sentence in per post, as a gesture towards fans ? :p

    Anyways about the Bookmarked / Novelr community thing… You really should find a way for the community to suggest links, because I think ‘This is something for Novelr’ at least once a week, and your contact thing doesn’t allow links…

    Good luck with your new style, but frankly I’m mostly glad you’re back.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Jan: done. You should see a link in the navigation bar now, the one labeled ‘Suggest A Link!’. Just drop a comment there (Akismet will take care of spam) and I’ll check things out. Cheers!

    PS: I didn’t know you were Dutch!

  • Jan Oda

    Thats because I’m not :) I’m from Belgium… But the Dutch speaking part…

    Anyway, I was totally looking at the sidebar, and panicking that it didn’t show up… Until I finally saw the header navigation. I can be blind…

    New side note, I like your footer. It expresses everything in a clear, chatty manner. Also, about the casual games, have you tried dicewars?? Those japanese game designers should be sued for serious procrastination!!

  • http://www.midnightreading.com/rocket Pete Tzinski

    I have never read a post on NovelR and stopped halfway through going “This writing is rubbish, although the ideas are quite nice. I am leaving!”

    Mostly, I read very interesting articles that leave me thinking — or grumbling — for the remainder of the day…and then I get sucked into a fascinating and intelligent conversation in the comments, which goes on at length. And I sincerely doubt it would that if the posts were rubbish. So don’t worry too much. (although I can understand why you do; certainly, I’ll see something of mine someone’s run online and go “Ugh, what the hell was that sentence and how did it not die? Agh, now everyone’s read it…”

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Not yet tried dicewars, Jan. Sounds really good, though! Give me a link? (psst: try The Space Game – it rocks, though I can’t seem to get past the last level. Tell me if you manage to beat it).

    @Pete: your comment – last sentence in particular – made my day. I was laughing my head off at it: so bloody true! Though in this case I was reading my past archives and wondering how I used to write like that, short sentences and clear ideas and all.

  • http://www.midnightreading.com/rocket Peter Tzinski

    Oh heck, that’s standard writer’s angst right there. Either we look back at old works and think “this is rubbish, I could never write, I am a talentless hack, I am going to go sell my body on the street or drive a taxi or something sensible.”

    Or else we look at it and go “That sentence is brilliant. Clear and sharp and just good writing. Oh God, I used to have it, but I don’t have it anymore, I am going to go become a serial killer or become a Belgian Super-Hero, or something sensible.”

    You can’t win. Honest. You’re doomed. ;)

  • Jan Oda

    I don’t even get past the evil motherships!!!
    http://gamedesign.jp/index_en.html

    Esp. Dicewars, which is a teared down Risk version, and le chat noir are cool, very simple but addicting flash games..

  • http://ComplicitSimplicity.com allan (BFuniv)

    I seem to swing from extreme to extreme. Run on gets chopped to abrupt, then back again. That comment about finding a voice is right on. Having read too many opinions on how to structure, it is be nice to finally relax into our own style.

    This is art, leave the breaststrokes if you wish. It’s YOUR art.

    As my most recent protagonist says:

    “Elegance. Well written code contains no flourishes. Concise. Direct. Succinct. As Bureaucracy Age transitioned into Netcohort Age, Cluetrain Manifesto proclaimed: ‘Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy.’ Hyperlinks are part of my art.” – Billy Goodman, Complicit Simplicity