Captain Comma and the Rise of the Romantic Robots

Hi everyone,

Last year I posted a prologue for a series of stories I wanted to write about Captain Comma and her crew. I’ve finally had time to write the first tale. Since we’ve just been through Valentine’s Day, I decided now was a good time to post it. Enjoy!

Captain Comma

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021416.

Today I received the details of our new mission from Admiral Apostrophe. Spot and I were in the middle of enjoying our usual romantic Valentine’s Day dinner (cheesy vegetarian lasagna for me, spicy chocolate-flavoured protein cubes for Spot) when we were interrupted by the system notification of our new story destination. It would have to be YA fiction…

 

“You’re kidding me,” said Sergeant Semi-Colon.

We’d materialized in the middle of a stereotypical high school corridor. Institutional grey lockers lined the walls, interrupted occasionally by beige classroom doors with narrow cross-hatched windows designed to keep out the light. The linoleum floors were a speckled white that failed to hide the stains. I could smell the remnants of rotten food, sweat, and desperation.

“Why do they have to make everything so bleak? It’s not like high school is the end of the world. Heck, I survived it just fine.” The Sergeant casually waved around his semi-automatic punctuation gun.

“Easy for you to say,” murmured Ensign Parenthesis. “You weren’t the skinny wimp who got picked on by all the girls.”

“Enough. We’re not here to change the tone, we’re just here to observe and see what sentences need fixing,” I said.

“Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything happening here, Captain,” said the Sergeant. Spot barked her agreement, littering an exclamation mark on the floor. Normally I’d be upset by her failure of protocol, but in this place, it’s not like anyone would notice.

A bell shrilled, and students began to pour out into the hall. Holding out my scanner, I looked for the source of the word disturbance.

“Uh-oh, here they come,” said Ensign Parey.

I looked up to find a group of four girls coming towards us. Although they were dressed in bright colours, their mannerisms were dull and impassive. They moved jerkily down the hall, shuffling their feet as they spoke to each other in monotonous voices.

“Suzy did you hear what happened to Scarlet.”

“No what’s the deal.”

“Well I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow that’s harsh.”

“Oh I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah I hear you.”

“Freeze page,” I commanded. The girls halted steps away from Ensign Parey, who backed away cautiously.

“Well, that was exciting,” said the Sergeant. “Luckily, I know just the thing to spice things up.” He patted the enormous barrel of his gun.

“Sorry, Mico, but I don’t think we’re going to need the heavy guns today. Looks like a classic case of comma failure.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

“Your time will come,” I promised. I pulled out my punctuation phaser and set it to “Vocative comma.” “Parey, do you recall what the vocative comma is for?” I figured a distraction was in order, since he was looking a little green.

“Um…isn’t that something you use when you’re addressing someone by name?”

“Excellent,” I said, and fired.

“Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet,” said the first girl, and stopped.

“I still think it’s creepy when we do that,” said Parey, who bravely came up to examine her.

“Aw, you get used it,” said Mico. “You just have to remember they’re not actually real.”

While the two of them talked shop, I set my phaser to rapid interjection with yes/no on a comma setting. I didn’t think we needed any exclamation marks. That dialogue was bad enough already.

“No,” “Well,” Wow,” “Oh,” “Yeah,” the girls chimed in.

“That was almost musical, captain,” complimented Mico.

Spot pawed at my polished regulation boots and cocked her head at the teenagers.

“All right, Spot. Go ahead and give them their question marks, so they can come alive.”

Spot barked twice, and we were ready to replay.

“Restart scene,” I commanded.

The girls bounded down the corridor, talking animatedly and gesturing with their hands.

Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet?

“No, what’s the deal?

Well, I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow, that’s harsh.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

Parey watched them as they continued on down the corridor. “I can’t say I’m going to miss this place. Talk about bad memories.”

“What did you think of high school, Captain?” asked Mico.

“Oh, that’s a story for another day,” I said.

 

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021516.

Well, the mission was successfully accomplished. It’s been a while since I’ve had to correct interjections. Visiting that YA story made me think about all the drama that I went through in high school. I wonder how Slash is doing now, and if I’ll ever see him again…

***

Thank you to my son for the fabulous illustration.

I hope you enjoyed the first Captain Comma story. Stay tuned for further adventures! And if you have any comments, suggestions for future story topics, or questions about commas, please feel free to post them below. Thanks for reading!

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2016

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A Punctuation Series Prologue

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 091015.

Admiral Apostrophe is at it again. He’s pushing hard for all the stories in his sector to be scanned before the end of the year, so he can confirm there are no prohibited punctuation violations. Sometimes I wonder if he’s completely forgotten about our Prime Directive — to let language evolve according to the needs of the readers.

NASA picture of dying star

It’s going to be a tricky balancing act for our crew. We need to clear away grammatical errors while preserving the writer’s right to choose on matters of style. I suspect I’ll be dictating some creative reports over the next few weeks to satisfy all those prescriptive politicians back home.

At least I have a supportive crew behind me. They believe what I do — that our purpose is to help writers communicate their ideas. We’re not there to defend arbitrary rules in the face of common usage. (But try telling the Admiral that!)

Poor Spot. I think she’s picking up on my agitation as we prepare to head out. She’s been barking exclamation marks and now they’re scattered all over the corridors. It’s a good thing we got those upgraded maintenance bots, or it would be a real mess.

Sergeant Semi-Colon is winking at me and tilting his head to hurry me up, so I’d better close this now. I’ll write again when we get to our first story destination.

Comma out.

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Most Annoying Punctuation Mark: Poll Results

And the results are in! Thanks to everyone who voted in my poll on the most annoying punctuation mark. For several days, the comma had the clear lead, but then the semi-colon pulled up from behind, until they were neck and neck for a final finish! Here are the results:

Comma: 41%

Semi-Colon: 38%

Hyphen: 21%

Comma cartoon by Debbie Ridpath OhiImage terms of use

Some of you also pointed your fingers at other punctuation marks, like the ellipsis, the colon, and quotes. (And then there were those of us who freely admitted to abusing the exclamation mark!)

Thank you for all your comments and suggestions. I will now be retreating to my writerly cave for a little while to plan out this series, which will likely start with the comma. I look forward to the challenge of making punctuation rules entertaining!

 

Yours in punctuation angst,

Sue

“How to Escape From That Wicked Which” Published in The Ghouls’ Review

Hi everyone,

Disney's Tangled - Horse and Rapunzel smirking at the prince

(Image from Disney’s Tangled)

My grammar story “How to Escape From That Wicked Which” has just been published by Grammar Ghoul Press in the spring edition of The Ghouls’ Review. Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Purkis (who also writes the wonderful blog Apoplectic Apostrophes) has pulled together an entertaining collection of fiction and creative non-fiction for your reading pleasure. Check it out – it’s free!

P.S. For those of you who like to write (or read) short fiction, Grammar Ghoul Press runs weekly micro and flash fiction challenges. Anyone looking for some great writing prompts should swing on by.

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

How to Escape from That Wicked Which

Once upon a time, there was a golden-haired princess who lived in a tiny room at the top of a tall tower. She never needed to choose between which or that when she wrote sentences in her diary. This was because she didn’t have many choices at all.

When she was a baby, she was stolen from her parents by a wicked witch, who locked her up in the tower. The witch had told her all about the scary place called Outside, and she hadn’t tried to leave while she was growing up. But now she was a teenager, and getting bored with solitude. She was also getting tired of writing the word which.

***

Dear Diary,

Nothing ever changes around here. The witch has warned me not to leave this place, but I am so bored! The rocking chair, which is over by the fireplace, is still empty.  I want to meet someone! I tried putting my old doll, which has red hair, in the chair to keep me company. But it’s just not the same. When will anything ever happen in this place?

***

The princess used the word which a lot in her diary because most of the things in the tower were unique. She didn’t have to single out a thing from all other things of the same type, so she used the word which to describe them. (Otherwise she would need to use that, which distinguishes between things.)

She didn’t need to write “that doll with the red hair” because she only had one doll. She provided the information that the doll had red hair, but the reader wouldn’t need to know this to identify the doll.

And she didn’t need to write “that rocking chair by the fireplace” because there was only one rocking chair, and it always sat by the fireplace.

Anything described using which is considered “non-essential” information. It can be removed from the sentence without affecting its meaning. (This is why this information is generally placed between commas or parentheses.) The princess could just as easily have written the following:

***

Dear Diary,

Nothing ever changes around here. The witch has warned me not to leave this place, but I am so bored! The rocking chair, which is over by the fireplace, is still empty.  I want to meet someone! I tried putting my old doll, which has red hair, in the chair to keep me company. But it’s just not the same. When will anything ever happen in this place?

***

One day, a handsome prince hacked his way through some vines (ruining his fine sword) and discovered the princess in the tower. He called up to her and told her not to worry—he would find a way to rescue her. She cheerfully yelled down that there was no need. She had figured out how to unlock the tower years ago, and now that something exciting had happened, she was ready to leave. The prince was a bit nonplussed by this, but recovered (and started preening) as he saw her striding towards him with a beaming smile on her face. Maybe it’s a good thing that he didn’t know what she was thinking.

***

Dear Diary,

Today something exciting finally happened. I got to meet a horse! He isn’t like the horse that is in my picture book. He is gleaming white, rather than being black all over. The horse is very nice—not at all like those girl-eating horses that the witch described to me. Oh, and I met a boy, too! He said I could decide which path to take. I was so happy to choose! I asked him, “What’s at the end of the path that follows the river?” He told me it led to his castle. It turns out that he is a prince! Then I asked him, “What’s at the end of the path that goes over the big hill?” He told me there was a town, and they were having a festival today. I’ll bet you can figure out where I went!

***

Our resourceful princess finally got to use that instead of which. She needed her reader to understand that the white horse was not the same as the horse in the book or the horses described by the witch. The reader also needed to know which of the two paths the princess was describing. All of the information is essential, so nothing can be eliminated. (That’s why the information is not surrounded by commas.) Otherwise, we’d have this wonderful nonsense:

***

Dear Diary,

Today something exciting finally happened. I got to meet a horse! He isn’t like the horse that is in my picture book. He is gleaming white, rather than being black all over. The horse is very nice—not at all like those girl-eating horses that the witch described to me. Oh, and I met a boy, too! He said I could decide which path to take. I was so happy to choose! I asked him, “What’s at the end of the path that follows the river?” He told me it led to his castle. It turns out that he is a prince! Then I asked him, “What’s at the end of the path that goes over the big hill?” He told me there was a town, and they were having a festival today. I’ll bet you can figure out where I went!

***

The princess enjoyed her time at the town festival. There were so many activities to choose from.

She danced with many of the townspeople.

(Dear Diary, The boy who had short brown hair danced especially well.)

Then she watched a stage play.

(The sole actress, who played the witch, was not very talented. But I enjoyed it anyway!)

She also fed apples to the magnificent horse.

(I wish I had a horse just like this one!)

***

You can see that the idea of essential vs. non-essential information also applies to the word who. If the information is placed between commas or parentheses, it is non-essential and can be eliminated. (Dear Diary: The sole actress, who played the witch, was not very talented.)

***

Eventually, the prince got bored. He said that it was time to go home to his castle, where he would marry her. She told him that he was crazy—why would she marry him, when she had all of these choices before her? The prince attempted to ride off in a snit, but the horse decided he would rather stay with the princess. So the prince ended up limping home.

Disney's Tangled - Horse and Rapunzel smirking at the prince

And they all lived happily ever after!
(Image from Disney’s Tangled)

THE END (for now – look for more grammar story excitement in future posts!)

P.S. The rules that I describe for which and that are based on North American style guidance. So don’t be surprised if you run into which in a text from England where others would use that. The rules about using commas for non-essential information, however, are still the same. Please feel free to share any of your which (or witch) stories below. Your comments are always welcome!