I had a heavy schedule set for the day. Hey, it’s softball season and we have two angels on different teams and that makes for a lot of time at the ballpark (which I LOVE). Extra-heavy work on non-game days is fine by me. But this morning, I got a simple query from my editor regarding the comma—as in, does it stay or go—in the title of my new series and in the text where the agency name is mentioned. Both happen to be the same: Lost, Inc. (or Lost Inc.) depending on . . .
Well, discovering the answer to the “does it stay or go” question took a little time. At one time, that comma was typically inserted. Now, according to a variety of style manuals, it’s typically omitted for “stop-less” style preferences. But—and here’s the kicker that will make writers nuts—it’s customary to follow the owner’s legal name in creative style.
So if Lost Inc. were a real company, then it’d be Lost Inc. Or if it were a real company and it opted for Lost, Inc. legally, then it’d be Lost, Inc. But there is no legal guidance in an imaginary corporation or its legal name. It has none, discounting the author’s imagination.
And what of the name of the agency? Is it Lost, Inc. or Lost Inc.? Well, looking at the style books, it’s pretty much up to the author and whether or not s/he wants to stick with the traditional or adopt the new stop-less style.
One entry suggested dropping the period after Inc. as well. I cruised right by that—I have enough conflict on the comma. No way am I adding the period to it. And another recommended dropping the Inc. so that Lost, Inc. or Lost Inc would become simply Lost.
Interesting tidbit of information I ran across: Did you know that Wal-Mart refers to the corporation and Walmart refers to a specific Wal-Mart store? True. But even Wal-Mart (or Walmart) uses both referencing both.
It’s a punctuation world gone mad. <g>
Mmm. So what do I do about this dilemma?
There are benefits in adoption that stop-less style. When a reader comes to a comma, s/he mentally pauses. Having an additional pause every time the agency’s name appears can wreck the rhythm and that can create challenges with pacing.
On the other hand, if readers expect to see that comma there and don’t, every time the agency’s name appears without the comma, the reader is going to mentally note it. That means s/he is going to be reminded s/he is reading. A lot of breaks in the fictional dream, reminding the reader s/he is reading is not a good thing.
Since it appears to come down to the owner, which in this case would be me, the author, I have to ask which best serves the book?
Honestly, I’ve read the book so many times now, I can’t tell how big a deal the rhythm thing is now. I looked at the pinterest board I created for this series to see what I’d done there. True to the dual fish, I swam both ways. Had some notations with the comma and some without it. Same thing on the private site. Obviously, at least in the text (readers are more forgiving in titles), there must be consistency. So which shall it be? Does the comma stay or go?
I don’t know yet.
By this point, I’d have to be dead from the neck up to know I’m not the best judge on this. The publisher does have a style preference, of course, but having received the query, my guess is they have the dual message research netted me, which drops me right back into the “you decide” position. Still, the publisher might have an adopted preferred position so I emailed all the citations to my editor, admitted I’d read the work so much I can’t tell how bad those stumbles on the comma or its absence would be for the reader anymore, and asked for her opinion. She’s a sharp cookie, and I trust her.
The moral of the post is that punctuation matters. If you think all this hoopla is an overreaction, consider a pin I saw the other day:
“Let’s eat, Grandpa.”
“Let’s eat Grandpa.”
I’d say a comma matters a great deal, especially to Grandpa!
So there are times a comma can kick your can. When it does, what best serves the story is to let it—and get advice from one not yet as saturated and steeped in the work. It might be hard to get your ego out of the way, but the truth is a fresh eye and inner ear can best serve your story. And that is the ultimate objective.
My instinct is to omit the comma. Breaking that fictional dream now and then is bad. Breaking it often is asking for hurl-the-book-in-frustration trouble.
Now remind me I said that when I start getting letters from readers saying my book is full of errors because the comma’s been omitted . . . if it is omitted. My ego versus best serving the story—it’s not even a competition. I’m seeking wise counsel on this one.
Which means the case of the questionable comma is not yet solved.
And the only thing I feel safe to say at the moment is that my schedule for today is shot. Well, that’s not true. It is shot, but there’s another thing I feel safe to say now. I’m going to think twice before titling a series with an Inc. again, even though I’m more than a little fond of it.
Vicki©2012, Vicki HInze
Not long ago, I started a group blog, Christians Read. It’s a place where authors and readers discuss faith-affirming fiction and non-fiction, and daily life. We’ve got a great group of authors participating (a list follows) You’re welcome to come chat with us on the ChristiansRead site or on our Facebook page.
Christians Read Authors: Hannah Alexander, Julie Arduini, Sarah Goebel, Elizabeth Goddard, Vicki Hinze, Maureen Lang, Yvonne Lehman, Kathi Macias, James L. Rubart, Lynette Sowell, Camy Tang