The other day, I ran across this line in a recent novel by a best-selling American writer (key words are disguised): “His disposition warmed faster than did the gradually dawning day.”
When it comes to punctuation, there’s a difference between formal prose and creative writing.
A few months ago in a conference session, a group of novelists digressed into good-natured complaints about being copyedited. One writer drew a lot of laughs saying, “I mean, I got A’s in English! I know where the freaking commas go!”
In novels and stories and other creative works, words spoken by a character are normally set off from the narrative with quotation marks, and the speaker is identified in the run of text by tags like “she said.”
A comma is normally placed before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, so, yet) that joins two independent subject-verb clauses—that is, clauses that could stand on their own as complete sentences. . . .
In editing formal prose, we fix nonstandard English without hesitation. But in editing creative works, we often need to throw out the stylebook so a narrator or character in a novel or play can abuse grammar to good effect. . . .
Parentheses can be used almost anywhere, but they are rarely seen in fictional dialogue or in quoted speech of any kind. The problem with parentheses in dialogue is that readers may not know exactly how to interpret them. . . .
Janet Burroway is the author of plays, poems, children’s books, a memoir, and eight novels, most recently Bridge of Sand. Her book Writing Fiction (10th ed., University of Chicago Press, 2019) is the most widely used creative writing text in America. . . .
Most writers and editors learn not to join (or splice) two independent clauses with a comma alone. . . .