Recently it has come to my attention that many writers tend to get confused by the current debates over certain devices, therefore I thought we might set the record straight on a few.

What is this mysterious Oxford comma, we hear spoken of with such fervor?

Yes, the Oxford comma is a heated source of debate.  Presently both the Oxford and the standard comma are acceptable in formal writing.  The Oxford comma would be to say ‘John, Joe, and Jane, went to the store’  whereas the standard would be to say ‘John, Joe and Jane went to the store’.  This is not the only instance one could give, but it is a general indication.  Essentially the Oxford is a bit more formal, it is a bit more specific.

In writing, the key is to be certain your words are understood as intended.  If a sentence is unclear, reword it.  If adding an Oxford comma helps clarify, use it.  It really is that simple.  Every time, we should choose function over fashion when it comes to writing.  The example that comes to mind is Cooking with Children, which would be clarified by adding a comma after the word ‘cooking’.  This implies that we are cooking, and the children are assisting, not part of the course being prepared.  Don’t be afraid to think of the comma as a pause, and read your sentences aloud until you are certain it doesn’t need anything added.  Comma usage is common sense, we only like to make it seem more complicated than it is.

How many spaces do go after a sentence?

According to the current Chicago Manual of Style, one space is standard for formalized writing.  Two spaces was once the standard, now it is one.  t is that simple.  Mind you, some publishers prefer one over the other, so be sure you check with them before sending off a manuscript.  (You will note, this article is written with two spaces between each sentence.  I, like many was taught this way, and it is a difficult habit to break.  It is acceptable in informal writing.)

Adverbs… To use or not to use?

Okay, let’s get this straight.  This doesn’t mean not to describe the scene.  You know your book, the reader doesn’t.  You have to give them some insight.  What if they can’t imagine the gruff voice of an orc?  Still, use caution not to over-describe.  Not every dialogue needs description of the tone used.  Give them enough, but not so much that you tell instead of showing.  Show through the dialogue itself, if possible, what sort of mood we’re dealing with, and the tone will be implied.  If it isn’t, clarify it for the reader.  Some writers are extremely anti-adverb.  I feel it has it’s place, but just like any tool at the writer’s disposal, it should be used with care.

Can I end a sentence with a preposition?

Well, technically it has never been incorrect to do so, it’s just frowned upon.  Ex: “That’s who I’m going with.”  It is simply lazy writing.  Recently there has been an uprising of writers insisting that this is acceptable, and technically they’re not wrong.  Still, writing should be done with pride, it is an art form.  Why bother writing, if you plan to be lazy about it?

My theory on this development is based on what I call the Self Publisher’s Era.  Over recent years it has become far easier to be published.  This is good, yes, as it allows many new writers to emerge and be seen.  Still, it also means that nearly anyone can write and publish a book, which fills the market with drivel as well as gems.  It used to be that a book had to contain some degree of literary merit before it was published, however, in today’s literary society we aim to make the market as accessible to as many people as is possible.  It is due to this, I believe, that more common, colloquial speech is becoming more commonplace within formal writing.  To a purist like myself, this is blasphemy, though I understand that I represent but a drop in the pond of opinions.  It has always been acceptable to allow common speech into dialogue, but the writing was supposed to be held to a higher standard.  Now, that is no longer required, it is merely brushed off as ‘style’ or ‘artistic choice’.  None of us wish to be the one that smothers artistic choice, but someone has to notice that a poorly written book s just that.  I remember when books encouraged readers to expand their vocabulary, to adopt a more proper manner of speech due to the observation of such.  With such things as prepositions at the end of sentences, I wonder what our writing encourages now.


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