Beware of Galloping Prose

I recently read an article that took me back many moons ago to when I was about eight. I was riding with my mom in my dad’s white Ford Galaxy, which was a stick shift. Mom ground the gears as she tried coordinating shifting with her right hand and steering with her left while using both feet simultaneously with one on the accelerator and the other on the clutch. As I clutched the door handle and braced myself hard against the seat to avoid whiplash, Mom growled under her breath, “Damned car galloping down the street!”

Mind you, the article I was reading had nothing to do with cars, mothers and daughters, or even horses. Yet I experienced the distinct sensation of galloping across hard terrain—ta-DUMP, ta-DUMP, ta-DUMP—which felt no more pleasing than it did in Dad’s car with Mom at the helm. And the reason for this sensation and thus the memory trigger? The article was peppered with commas, very few of which were necessary or appropriately placed.

Now I fully admit to being a full-fledged commakaze myself. However, loving commas does not give one license to abuse their use and thus do damage to the message and cause angst to readers. In the article I was reading, the galloping prose not only obscured the article’s message, it also made me angry with its author for the jolting, jarring read. From now on, I will approach any articles written by that author with caution.

But in that author’s defense, some writers are not innate editors. Still, it is the writer’s responsibility to deliver a clear message that flows more like a canter, and failing to do so reflects poorly upon the writer. Readers don’t care if the author is not a natural editor, but they do care about painful, frustrating reading and often will not give the author a second chance. This is why having a good copyeditor is an absolute must-have, even for writers who are natural editors, as all of us have blind spots when reading our own writing.

So remember: beware of galloping prose. And then hire a copyeditor who is skilled at creating a smooth, steady canter.