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Patch Mulberry
Posted on Saturday, August 04, 2007 - 05:01 pm:   

"They had stopped talking, they seemed to be waiting in placid indifference."

Should the comma be changed to a semicolon?

or

Should a conjunction come after the comma?

Or

Is it okay as it is?

It's from Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" p.15
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Saturday, August 04, 2007 - 07:53 pm:   

Yes, it's a comma splice and could be fixed with either a semi-colon or an edit to include a conjunction. But some authors prefer to use comma splices as a stylistic choice, in much the same way that other authors use sentence fragments. Like this. And some authors use them by accident and neither their editors or the CEs change them, so they end up in the final MS.

Which do you think this was?

If it was your story, how would you have written it?

If you were the editor and the writer stetted the change, what would you do?

And how much difference does it make to the reader engaged in the story?
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Patch Mulberry
Posted on Saturday, August 04, 2007 - 08:07 pm:   

Thanks Charles.

Which do you think this was? I dunno that's kinda why I asked. I don't know her intent, and I don't see the reason for putting a comma there when she could have used a semi-colon.

If you were the editor and the writer stetted the change, what would you do? I'd let the author do what the author wanted.

And how much difference does it make to the reader engaged in the story? It took me out of the story to the point that I made a post about it.
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Saturday, August 04, 2007 - 08:43 pm:   

It took me out of the story to the point that I made a post about it.

That's the best reason not to use comma splices, and the main reason they don't work the same way as sentence fragments, which readers understand are there to create a specific dramatic effect.

I don't remember Rand well enough to know if that is a frequent choice in her writing, but my guess is that she wrote it that way and her editors were reluctant to change it because of her personality. But what do I know?
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 10:59 am:   

The comma seems wrong to me. Here are some ways I would change it:

They had stopped talking and seemed to be waiting in placid indifference.

They had stopped talking. They seemed to be waiting in placid indifference.

They had stopped talking, seeming to be waiting in placid indifference.

The first and third of these are best, because why repeat the word "they"?
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 12:06 pm:   

But get rid of the helping verb in the third version: They had stopped talking, seeming to wait in placid indifference.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 12:32 pm:   

That would work. In truth though, the original is awkward. Why "seeming" anyhow? Were they waiting in placid indifference or not? Were they really excited and just pretending to be waiting in placid indifference? Waiting for what? I mean - maybe there is supposed to be something poetic about it. I am not really sure what it means though.
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GSH
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 01:26 pm:   

"It took me out of the story to the point that I made a post about it."

That kinda says it all, doesn't it? If there's the clunk of a speed bump with no indication as to why the writer has deliberately broken your focus, in my book at least it's an error. Such bumps can result from the strict adherence to grammatical propriety as easily as from a careless disregard for it.

On the other hand, maybe we all have our pet peeves and idiosyncrasies? I avoid "she had had" and "he had had", for example, prefering "she'd had" and "he'd had". For all I know, no one else on the planet cares in the least. Some might even blink at the use of the contracted pronoun.
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Patch Mulberry
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 01:36 pm:   

This is the paragraph it came from, "She walked rapidly toward them, past the motionless line of wheels. No one paid attention to her when she approached. The train crew and a few passengers stood clustered under the red light. They had stopped talking, they seemed to be waiting in placid indifference."

The train they were on stopped because one of the lights on the track was red. So Dagny Taggart, one of the heads of the train company, exited the stopped train and went to talk to the engineers to find out why the train stopped. The last sentence refers to the train engineers. And the "her" refers to Dagny Taggart.
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GSH
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 02:24 pm:   

It doesn't clunk quite so badly in the context of the paragraph, but for me it's still an annoyance. I suppose there's a bit of the actor's impatience with the situation conveyed by the rhythm of the sentences, so maybe that's what the structure of the last one is meant to convey?

Long time since I've read any Ayn Rand. I wasn't so conscious of stylistic nuance way back when.
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S. Hamm
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 02:44 pm:   

Must disagree: #2 is by far the best of the three "corrected" versions. Rhythmically, it imitates the action it describes: "They had stopped talking." Pause. Anticipation. Why? -- what of it? "They seemed to be waiting in placid indifference."

#2 also fits best with the clipped rhythms of the surrounding paragraph, which Patch Mulberry has been kind enough to reproduce above (I have room on my shelves for quite a few Kamp Klassix, but not for Atlas Shrugged). #1 is flabby, chatty, lacking in drama. #3 is, to put it charitably, a tin-ear special: if you can get past that hideous mid-sentence pileup of gerunds and participles without wincing, you are made of sterner stuff than I.

The verb "seemed," to answer Brendan's question, is a simple POV marker: it reminds us that our viewpoint character, Dagny Taggart, is perceiving the "placid indifference" of the engineers, and is about to react with her usual indignation. They are, after all, gormless, passive worker drones of the sort she will certainly not invite to the valley of the uberachievers when civilization starts to collapse.
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Brendan Connell
Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 03:07 pm:   

Yes, seeing where the line comes from 2 is best. It should just be two sentences. Simple.
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Wolf Trubshaw
Posted on Monday, August 06, 2007 - 05:04 am:   

I guess what takes one reader out of the reading flux pleases another reader just fine.

In the context of the paragraph the printed version to me reads far less bothering than any of the three alternatives suggested.

The paragraph contains four sentences, and is balanced nicely.
_,_. _. _. _,_.

Nothing throws me as much as obnoxious conjunctions, or elitist semicolons.

Even a dash would seem more intrusive on my reading flux than the comma used.
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Monday, August 06, 2007 - 05:28 am:   

...semicolons are elitist?

I never got that gold-foiled memo!
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S. Hamm
Posted on Monday, August 06, 2007 - 02:07 pm:   

Full colons are nouveau riche.
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ccfinlay
Posted on Monday, August 06, 2007 - 03:52 pm:   

I've known some nouveau riche with full colons, but I never got the connection until now.

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