Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review Squared, February 12, 2013

When Commas Attack
Valerie Cardinal
I’ll admit it; I’m a grammar freak. When I was in 7th grade, my English teacher would give us extra credit for finding grammatical errors in books and newspapers. These days, I still feel a little thrill whenever I find a mistake or misuse. This thrill is quickly followed by annoyance, which ends up taking me out of whatever I’m reading. 
This was my main problem when I read Meaghan Baxter’s review of Summer and Smoke on VueWeekly. The thing that struck me from the very first sentence was the overuse of commas. “How often do we hold back our true selves, allowing an incomplete version of our personas to be on display, while struggling against our doppelgänger, the other side itching to break free?” Whoa. Slow your roll, there. That’s a whole lot of sentence. 
I do love my long, compound sentences once in a while, but not when there’s nothing else in an entire 500-word piece.
The worst is that it doesn’t stop there. I do love my long, compound sentences once in a while, but not when there’s nothing else in an entire 500-word piece. I get it though, I really do. One of the difficulties of writing a critique is that you have to cram a lot of information into not much space, without losing the reader along the way. I’m personally responsible for using commas to insert more details into my articles. I love commas. I love punctuation so much that I bought a poster from The Oatmeal about semicolons. However, there is a limit. If almost every single sentence contains an average of three commas, that’s probably too much. 
My second problem with Baxter’s review is that it’s not really a review but more of a preview. This is perfectly fine, since I love a good preview. However, the writing is still quite clunky. The article doesn’t include the opening date or even much about the staging at all. Instead, Baxter lingers on the script and the plot of Tennessee Williams’ play. While it sounds interesting, I would have liked to know more about the actual production. 
Baxter does get some interesting quotes from the director, but one of those is unfortunately repeated twice in the same paragraph. “If you watch the play closely, you'll recognize that all of the characters are incomplete in some way or another.” It’s a good quote, but not necessary to repeat twice. I’m actually a little surprised that wasn’t caught by an editor before publication. 
One of the few things that have stuck with me from journalism school is to keep things simple. Especially in this day and age of blogs and online journalism, I’ll gladly read a snappy, shorter sentence before one loaded down with comma after comma. 

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