First-time novelist, Jake McCloud, printed a book and sent it to twenty critics for feedback. The majority were not impressed. They said there was an awful lot of commas in his book. How could that possibly happen?
"It was a beginner's mistake," said Jake. "I failed to follow the Comma Tally Guidelines set out by The International Writers Guild of International Writers (IWGIW). So let us examine the correct number of commas a good novel should contain to spare you from the same painful mistake.
In an earlier blog, I covered the correct word-count-per-chapter writers need for satisfactory results. The number, of course, is 1781 to 1789 words per chapter.
It is important to note that the Comma Tally needs to work in conjunction with the words-per-chapter quota. Otherwise, the short-term effect on the reader may lead to mild nausea, and longer-term effects can result in a nervous twitch followed by either Lontophoresis or Tourette Syndrome.
In rare cases, incorrect comma use by a careless writer can even cause death. Several British writers were incarcerated in the Dartmoor Prison for the Criminally Insane for this very Crime.
The novelist has a duty of care to readers, and avoiding hazardous comma usage is essential.
Nineteenth-century novelists were notoriously flippant with their commas.
Russian writer, Alexander Pushkin, fought a duel over his right to use over sixty commas per page when the correct number was said to be fifty-three.
On one controversial page, nearing the end of his novel, The Captain's Daughter, Pushkin managed to shatter the 75 comma barrier, which was considered the absolute theoretical ceiling by Russian linguists.
To put this achievement into perspective, the next highest recorded use of commas, with 68 commas on a single page, was achieved by a psychopath who managed to sneak onto Brittan's top 12 Bestsellers list in 1828.
The Pushkin Comma scandal prompted studies into correct comma usage. It was found the average number of commas required to sustain a 'credible and legitimate page-turning experience' in contemporary novels is forty-nine commas per page.
This meant many commas had to be cut from Russian and English books. The work began in earnest. The arrival of the comma cutting machine, pictured below, heralded a new era of publishing.
Women hard at work, cutting commas. They received one penny per thousand shredded commas. Many suffered chronic ink poisoning.
Following the arrival of the Comma Cutting Machine, the safe number of commas per page was incrementally reduced to 38.
Writers took to the streets in protest. They complained that with a reduced number of commas in circulation, their work would be stunted.
These writers were joined in their protests by Comma Cutting Machine factory workers, mostly women, who complained of being exploited. These protests led to the Women's Suffrage moment and, eventually, the right to vote for women.
The Comma Cutting Factory in Sheffield became the scene of a month-long strike, followed by riots and the eventual destruction of the Comma Cutting Machine.
After that, the permitted number of commas per page shot back up to the high fifties, and there it remained for decades.
Then, in the early 1980s, experiments were conducted by the well-known and highly regarded literary publisher in Wales, L.C. Jones & Co. They experimented with the Comma Tally, in conjunction with the chapter word quota of 1784.
The results: English language readers were satisfactorily impressed with all novels in which the chapter world count ran to between 1781 and 1789 words, with 41 commas per page and a word average letter number of five. When books drifted outside of this rage, the effect on the readers was alarming. "I thought I was going to die," said one test subject. Another put it this way: "If I had attempted to consume the material in one sitting, I would most definitely have perished in the attempt. I'm glad I didn't. This book is at the limit of the death-by-comma-quota."
Patients in the Comma Recovery Center in Cardiff, 1983. Following an inhumane experiment to determine comma tolerance in contemporary novels.
In a rather cheeky speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1993, the Bodean Brothers revealed yet another study, and claimed that the 41 comma rule is misleading, and that they were the first to solve the whole comma conundrum.
They stated that, "The comma is a slippery fellow, he has a mind of his own and likes to nip off at a tangent."
In their paper titled, So you think you know Commas? they stated that rather than the 41 commas per page rule, it is the average number of commas per chapter that counts. This is the key to good writing, they insisted, and the correct number ought to be 986 commas per chapter.
The Bodean Brothers were subsequently found to have faked their commas. They were accused of printing counterfeit commas and leaving bags full of commas lying about at writing festivals in an attempt to throw the literary world into disarray.
Soon they were dismissed as crackpots and the 41 commas-per-page ruling remand.
A French novelist, arrested for violating the European Comma Standard and attempting to conceal unregistered commas in a shopping bag.
In 2013, the International Writers Guild of International Writers (IWGIW) was approached by the Federation of European Publishers and asked to consider overseeing the standardization of commas on a European wide basis.
The Europe Comma Standard has now been implemented, with the number of commas per page in the English language acting as the baseline.
Consequently, around 30% of all European sentences have now been standardized, with work on the remaining 70% still ongoing. However, French writers continue to resist the standardization process. They say that the IWGIW is guilty of bringing about an attitude of cancel culture to the French comma.
The IWGIW say that the changes have been welcomed by all concerned, except for the French and some younger, more fiery and less mature writers who are hoping that their generation, the Millennials, will not have anything to with the full 41 comma treatment.
Such resistance aside, we can now conclude that there are three things a contemporary novel needs to have to be deemed a successful piece of literature by its own author; a comma tally of 41 commas-per-page, a 1784 word-per-chapter quota, and a word-letter-number average of five.
For more free writing tips see, Chapter Length.