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About Theresa Nichols Schuster

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Theresa Nichols Schuster is author of "Brittle Silver" and "We Are the Warriors" a 2015 USA Regional Excellence Book Award Finalist. She currently lives in southwest Montana where she appreciates the wonders of nature, family, friends, a bit of pottery.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

To Leap or Not to Leap - aka - Comma Confusion

That tenuous perch we cling to—Should we go forward?—Shall we act?—Or should we stay put and not take the leap into the unknown?

The questions at times leave no clear answer. Is it time to quit that unsatisfying job? Is it time to go back to school? Is now the time to communicate difficult feelings?

We lean over a precipice not knowing what result our future actions may bring. What chain reaction, ripple effect or consequences will happen from our choices?

We realize that we don't totally understand our situation, other people, or the challenges a new environment may evoke. How can we decide with such imperfect information?

We do have an option to do nothing new or different—that is also a choice—to let things remain the same. In some circumstances that is not always bad. Time itself is a great changer. It has a way of altering either the situation or how we see it.

As I worked my way through the last edit of my novel, I was faced with questions of what to change or leave the same. Would modifications to my phrasing, changes in plot or cuts in content, make the story better or bog it down?

A seemingly simple but continually confusing issue while editing was whether to add or remove commas. Not a huge problem compared to life questions, but vexing for a writer. Commas are, as Jim Whiting, children's book author and editor, says, "Probably the most difficult form of punctuation to use correctly."

The rules of when to use commas are many and often free-flowing. Where one inserts a pause or a comma can change the meaning of a sentence. Such as, "My husband, said the cop, was in big trouble." versus, "My husband said the cop was in big trouble." Big Difference!—Although not nearly as entertaining as some of the autocorrect texts that we send each other! (Who was it last week who texted me that she was "looking forward to getting back out in the yard and making 'thongs' pretty?" I'm sure she meant "things," but I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.)

It is interesting to note that depending on where we "pause" in our lives, where we stay or move forward, can change who we become and many of our circumstances.

It turns out some comma "rules" are not clear and are open to interpretation. Like whether to put a comma before an "and" or not. Too many commas or commas placed in simple, short sentences can interrupt the reading and not give the reader credit for understanding the flow of the story and plot.

A great resource for punctuation, including comma punctuation, can be found on-line at The oft' remembered quote of Oscar Wilde, "I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out." is mentioned in the article. I too go around in circles about the need or not for a comma.

To pause or to leap forward? To give the reader more cues or to assume their intelligence or ability to interpret well?

Is that not our life challenge? To give it a break or to advance? A bit of "comma confusion" is normal. For we never totally know the mind of our reader nor the personalities and inner workings of our friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances.

Sometimes we ride on the flow of the waves, not questioning much, just letting ourselves be one with the movement. Other times a decision is called for, or an action required. How will we punctuate our lives? Where will we linger? Will we be understood or appreciated? Will we decide to leap—accepting our inability to fully know the consequences of our choices?