Month: February 2015

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 8: Commas

comma rules

Commas have lots of uses and are essential in helping writing to flow and make sense. However, knowing when to use them, and when not to, can be confusing. Lots of authors that I work with either pepper their writing with far too many commas, or write long, complicated sentences that leave the reader struggling to make sense of what is going on. It isn’t enough to use commas where you would naturally pause in a sentence, although this technique can help. Sometimes a comma HAS to be used, and sometimes the use of a comma can be a case of convention or choice.

Without commas, your meaning can be easily changed or confused. Take this obvious example; it speaks for itself:

comma grandma

If you find commas a pain, then these rules and suggestions may help.

1) Use a comma to separate items on a list. This always reminds me of a memory game I used to play with my kids on long car journeys:

I went to the shops and I bought an apple, a banana, a cherry and six bars of chocolate.

Be careful to avoid confusion here though:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine and cheese and tomato.

Now, are we suggesting here that I eat sandwiches with all these fillings? Or that I like hummus sandwiches, and sandwiches that contain sardines AND cheese AND tomato. Or sardine and cheese. Or just cheese and tomato? Commas can clear this up:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine, and cheese and tomato.


2) Use a comma to separate a series of actions, events or elements in a sentence:

She opened the door, peeped inside, and screamed her head off.

3) Use a comma before a conjunction to connect two independent clauses:

She opened the door quietly, but he still heard her.

The comma could be left out, but using it here helps the pace of the sentence, and adds to the suspense.

4) Use a comma after the introductory elements of a sentence:

Opening the door, she felt a scream rise in her throat.

5) Use a comma to set off parenthetical information:

She opened the door, her heart banging in her chest, and peeped inside.

The bit between the commas can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.

paretical comma

6) Use a comma to separate adjectives:

She was a scared, pale little thing.

If you can put an ‘and’ between the adjectives, then it’s probably better to use a comma there instead – you might write ‘She was a scared and pale little thing’, but not ‘She was a scared and pale and little thing’.

6) Use commas when you are writing speech:

‘This door’s hinges,’ she said, ‘are in need of some oil.’


‘I think we should oil the hinges,’ she said.

7) Use a comma before a phrase that expresses a contrast:

The door was solid, but not very heavy.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if I was to write about every single use of a comma then not only would this blog post be very boring, it would also be confusing. The advice given here is a starting point and will help you on your way to improving your craft and your knowledge of those little rules and conventions that help writing make sense.


I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.


‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng


This novel begins with the stark words that Lydia Lee is already dead. From this we are drawn skilfully into the lives of Marilyn and their three children: Lydia – frustrated, struggling and insecure; Nath – overshadowed and desperate to escape; and poor, unwanted, ignored Hannah who craves attention and whose silent presence hides a deep knowledge and understanding of the dynamics at work in this troubled family.

James is Chinese, Marilyn American. They marry at a time when such things were rare and controversial. Marilyn, stifled by a mother who fails to see the promise in her daughter, strives to succeed, to make a career and a life for herself. Then she marries James and her dreams are buried. She lives vicariously through Lydia, in who see sees the fulfilment of her own frustrated ambitions. But Lydia is hiding her true feelings; they seethe away inside and eventually lead her on a path that brings tragedy to everyone.

This is beautifully written and engaging. It isn’t a mystery or a crime thriller, but rather a deep and intriguing look at the dynamics of family and society and at how our expectations, our love and hope for our children can have consequences we never wished for.

The characters are well-developed and complex. Marilyn and James mess things up, make the wrong decisions for what they think are the right reasons, and, despite their best intentions, manage to completely misunderstand all three of their children. In short, they are human.

My only criticism is that I felt many aspects of this novel could have been developed further. There was more to be discovered in both Marilyn’s and James’ backgrounds. I also wanted to know more about Lydia – how things were at school for example. And more could have been made of Marilyn’s struggle to be recognised as more than ‘just’ a mother and a wife, and of her frustrations at the way her life has turned out.

Aside from that though, this is a great read and an impressive debut novel.

4 stars

Find a copy here

Happy Lupercalia!

Happy Valentine’s Day – this post from last year explains the origins of the celebration.

Alison Williams Writing

Lupercalia heart

Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and lots of you will be receiving bouquets of roses and planning romantic dinners (not me- my husband knows I have no time for the gross commercialism that is Valentine’s Day and is under pain of divorce not to buy me flowers – and I mean it), however, it would seem that Valentine’s Day has always had a lot more to it than hearts and flowers. In fact, it originates from an ancient pagan ritual that was celebrated for years before anyone had heard of Valentine.

In Rome, many centuries ago, the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February. On the 14th of February, a day devoted to Juno, queen of the gods and patron of marriage, young women would place their names on slips of paper put into jars. The young men would pick out a name…

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#RBRT ‘The Song of the Cypress’ by Tonia Parronchi


I received a copy of ‘The Song of the Cypress’ from the author to review for Rosie’s Book Review Team. If you’re looking for a book to transport you away from a cold miserable February then is a great choice.


Ann is a woman who is only half alive, caring for a mother who has sunk into depression and illness since the death of her husband, leaving Ann to a lonely childhood and a miserable adulthood. Her mother’s death offers the chance of a fresh start and Ann dreams of the cypress on the night before her mother’s funeral.

Ann travels to Tuscany, and in a small village finds the cypress. She begins her transformation, embracing her new life and her neighbours, the chatty Lucia and Pietro, Lucia’s quiet husband, hard-working put upon Rita and, of course, gentle, handsome Joe.

She also encounters the strange, wild, carefree old woman Fiammetta, the white witch, who teaches Ann about herbal remedies and healing, and shows her how to connect fully with the cypress and its song.

This is a beautifully written story. The sense of place is wonderful; I felt as though I was there in the Tuscan countryside as the seasons changed. The descriptions of the scenery, the seasons and the people are extremely well done and Ann is an interesting and well-drawn main character. I wanted her to be happy and to find the life and love she deserved. I also wanted to be in the warm sun of Tuscany, with its beautiful scents and scenery, all of which were brought beautifully to life.

I did feel that Ann’s out of body experiences were rather drawn out and repetitive at times – but this is my only criticism. This is a lovely book, and one I definitely recommend.

4.5 out of 5

Find a copy here.