|Punctuation||| Print ||
|Written by Christine Redding|
|Tuesday, 29 November 2011 08:22|
Commas, periods, exclamation points... Punctuating your writing correctly gives it tone and cadence, and eases the flow of reading. Improper punctuation makes the words stumble over themselves, and breaks the reader's concentration, bottoms out that magic carpet.
Punctuation came about because of the arts of rhetoric and oratory, and the need for indicators on the written page, as to how a speech could most effectively be delivered. The first, most basic punctuations were periods and commas, to mark the full-stop beat, and the half-beat pause. Those proved to be such good ideas, that punctuation has evolved to a far more intricate system to allow for the many ways in which we emphasize, break and structure the sound in our minds, of what we write.
This is not intended as a full lesson on punctuation rules, conventions and usages, which can be found in any writing course or style guide. This article is about elements of punctuation and basic skills that make the difference between whether or not your writing will make it to publication. So--here are a few of the punctuation situations that reveal a writer's fundamental skill.
Punctuation clarifies the relationships between words in a sentence.
Commas mark the pauses that indicate whether we are talking to or about someone:
We are fighting men.
We are fighting, men.
Hyphens tie two words together:
We are fighting-men.
Apostrophes indicate possession and contractions--but not plurals except in the case of single letters or numerals. On this topic, the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (the style manual that TZPP uses) specifies that only with lower-case single letters used as nouns, is the apostrophe appropriate, and only for the sake of clarity. Upper-case letters and numerals are made plural by the simple addition of an s without an apostrophe.
Punctuation gives the reader notice of how dialogue is being delivered.
Question marks and exclamation points give tonality: Try replacing the “.” with “?” and “!” in any of the sentences above.
And a special note on exclamation points: The skilled writer uses these almost exclusively in dialogue, and rarely in narrative. Readers may need to be told how a character says something, but they don't need the author to tell them how to feel about something. That's just too pushy. This is known to skilled writers, but while this error does point to a less-experienced writer, it is not enough by itself to get a manuscript rejected.
An exception to this might be in the kind of narration which is being directly addressed to the reader, in the kind of story where the reader is recognized by the writer as a participant, as a story-teller addressing the audience. It might also be used in something presented in first-person, a form which implies that the protagonist is speaking directly to the audience. In those cases, the speaker's (author's or protagonist's) voice and its tonalities are relevant to the story.
Punctuation gives a heads-up for what is coming next.
Colons and semi-colons prepare the reader for a list of examples, or a continuation of the thought expressed in the previous sentence.
Proper punctuation makes the difference between a smooth, unambiguous reading and one that bumps along never letting the reader sit back and fly along on the story. Rules aside, making sure that your story is properly punctuated is a courtesy that readers and editors will always appreciate.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 08:52|