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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Monday, September 19


How about a short course in punctuation? Do you feel like a student in a tiresome English class, taught by a tiresome English teacher? Well, buckle up, kids. I don’t care.

But first, how about another Ole & Lena joke to lighten the load?

Ole went to the Sons of Norway Hall one night and finally won the door prize, which was a toilet brush. He was so excited that he won he brought it home and used it often. Someone asked him during the next meeting what the prize was and if he liked it or not. Ole replied, "Yeah, I like the toilet brush okay, but I think I'm gonna go back to usin’ paper."

"Uff da!!"

For those of you who aren't familiar with this Norwegian expletive, I'll illustrate: Ole was out in the chicken coop gathering eggs. He opened his mouth to breathe and his gum fell out on the floor. He picked it up and put it back in his mouth and said, "Uff da!"

There, now you know.

The comma is such a useful mark, but too often careless writers think that anywhere there’s a pause in the sentence, a comma should be plunked in. Not so. There are a set number of places for this mark. They’re like little road signs for the reader, and if the writer and the reader are operating on different signals, the poor reader will go over a cliff to the right because you had directed him there. First, there are commas working singly to mark off items in a series or introductory word groups you want to set off from the main S-V-O. For example, there are series like 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and introductory word groups, like 1-o's, 2-o's, 3-o's, 4-1-o's, and adverb s-v-o's.. Second, there are commas working in pairs to mark off word groups that are dropped into the sentence, sort of interrupting the normal flow of the sentence. The problem? The reader can’t immediately tell if the first comma is working alone or is the first of a pair working together. What we need is a backward comma to tell him that this is the first of two, sort of like a tiny parenthesis. We all know that parentheses are a paired mark. You say, but would the reader really notice that it’s a backward comma? I say, yes. Readers worth even a pinch of salt gather an amazing amount of information in an amazingly short time. What, you say, are the kinds of word groups that are set off in pairs, the ones that sort of interrupt the flow of the sentence? The answer: appositives; parenthetical expressions (of course, well, for example, therefore, as a matter of fact, etc.); adjective s-v-o’s that aren’t essential to the meaning of the main S-V-O but only add information about the nouns they’re describing; adverbial word groups that are dropped in between the S and the V; the names of people or things the writer is addressing as though he is speaking directly to them.

Look at these examples.

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