• Sarah McKnight

June Workshop

I have to admit, the end of May through basically the entirety of June were extremely busy for me. My husband and I took our first vacation since we got married nearly two years ago, I got my passport and wallet stolen in Italy, and our air-conditioner decided it would work best by dripping water all over the place.

Amongst sorting out a replacement drivers license, getting new cards, and having repair techs come through the house to diagnose the issue (still ongoing...), I had very little brainpower left to plan this workshop. Fortunately, my saving grace came to the rescue in the form of an email from one of the group members. He requested that we have a discussion on the dreaded commas.

This was a tough topic. It's wild how one, tiny punctuation mark can have so many rules and can be so confusing to the masses. I get it, though. Commas are a bit of an enigma, as they have hard and fast rules but they can also be used as a creative choice depending on the sentence. I spent a few days pondering the best way to go about a lesson on commas to room full of adults - fellow writers at that. In the end, I decided to start with the basics and let the discussion flow from there.

Before the workshop started, I threw a whole slew of sample sentences up on the meeting room whiteboard, and even though it killed me not to include the much-needed commas, we read through each one and determined where the comma was supposed to go together.

We discussed how commas separate clauses, lists, coordinative adjectives, etc. But the discussion really got fired up when we reached the one, the only, the Oxford Comma! Now, I am 100% team Oxford comma. I always use it. To me, a sentence doesn't look correct without it. But that doesn't mean NOT using an Oxford comma is incorrect. What was interesting was hearing from one of the older members in the group. He had never learned to use an Oxford comma. They just weren't standard when he was in school. Hearing about how he was taught and the generational divide in grammar between him and the members closer to my age made for a lively and informative discussion.

Once we got through the technicalities, we talked a bit on using commas as a creative choice. For this, I admit I got a bit cheeky. One of the group members had contacted me about my comma usage in a particular sentence in my published book, The Reaper's Quota. He felt where I had placed the comma was incorrect. His suggestion wasn't wrong, mind you, but neither was the way I had written it. In fact, I had placed that comma specifically to conduct the tone I wanted to convey. I teased him a bit (all in good fun, of course!) and he was happy to joke along with me.

Here is the sentence as I originally wrote it:

The waves go down and, starting to panic, two of the boys in the group detach themselves from their boards.

Here is how he felt it should be:

The waves go down, and starting to panic, two of the boys in the group detach themselves from their boards.

I read both sentences aloud so everyone could here how the natural pause brought on by the comma changed the tone of the sentence depending on its placement. My intention was for the "starting the panic" line to be an insert for added effect, and in cases like that, it is correct to surround the phrase with commas. It ended up being a prime example of using commas as a creative choice!

The workshop was fantastic. I always worry about leading these discussions, as I sometimes fear I'll end up sounding like I don't know what I'm talking about. I do, but it's hard for me to convey my thoughts into words in front of a group of people. This is why I write! But the discussion was great, everyone was in a good mood, and there were lots of laughs. I was even told everyone felt like they had learned something, so that was a huge bonus!

The July workshop will be another activity. I'm really looking forward to hosting this one. It's going to be a whole lot of fun. Stay tuned!

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