For many writers, punctuation issues bring back nightmares of elementary school language tests when writing felt like guesswork.
Take heart, because there’s good news for fiction writers. Comma “rules” aren’t so very rule-y any more, at least if you want your writing to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, as do most novels.
Throughout Chicago‘s section on commas (6.18-6.56), you’ll find phrases like, “does not require a comma except to avoid misreading” or “a comma usually follows if a slight pause is intended” or “they may be preceded by a comma” (my emphasis on that last one).
The point is, in fiction the trend seems more and more toward writers utilizing commas only as a means of helping readers understand. That is great news!
From now on, when using tricky constructions, an author needs only ask, Do I pause when I read this aloud? Of course editors get the last say, but if a writer uses commas to clarify, chances are they will be a non-issue instead of a nightmare.