Punctuation for Writers

In today’s Journal

* The Passive Voice Site
* Punctuation for Writers
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

The Passive Voice Site

which I visit every morning to find items for Of Interest, is currently down. I suspect the security certificate for the site has expired.

I also suspect PG and his webhost are working to correct the situation. In the meantime I’ll check a couple times each day to see whether the problem has been rectified.

Punctuation for Writers

Punctuation is the least-understood tool in the writer’s toolbox. But despite its seeming insignificance, it is also among the most important.

Those tiny little seemingly insignificant symbols have great power. They perforn no less a task than directing the reader as he reads your work.

You know this is true. Consider the last time you stumbled upon a misplaced, unnecessary comma (the least powerful mark of punctuation).

Chances are, you stopped, backtracked, and reread the sentence, mentally omitting the comma so you could make sense of it.

Getting punctuation “right” is no less important than choosing the right word to convey your meaning in a sentence.

But when I say getting it “right” I don’t mean blindly following the standard conventions. I don’t advocate doing anything blindly.

As I was telling a writer recently, I don’t teach that a writer should use punction “because this is the way it’s done” like absolutely everyone else does.

Instead, I teach things you’ve never heard in any English or Composition class at any level in your schooling.

The HarBrace College Handbook, widely used in high schools and colleges, had either 9 or 19 pages of just comma rules.

The very short Chapter 5 of my book Punctation for Writers boils all of that down to five rules, and two of those are the reverse of two others. Yet with only those five (really only three) rules, you will create the desired affect in the reader almost every time.

Punctuation is the equivalent of the maestro’s baton.

Like the individual instruments in an orchestra, each mark of punctuation has a specific function for a particular reason, and the reason is always to create a particular effect in the reader. To manipulate the reader.

As a writer, you DO manipulate the reader, even if you believe you don’t. Even if you aren’t trying intentionally to manipulate him. So you might as well get a positive return on your work.

Used effectively, punctuation disappears. Used effectively, it’s something the reader doesn’t even notice. If the reader DOES notice it, you’ve failed.

No less an author than Cormac McCarthy wrote one complete novel without using quotation marks to set off the characters’ dialogue.

Another, much lesser-know but no less excellent writer, Jason Gurley, “misused” the colon, a mark that forces a long-pause on the reader. The title of the story was “After a Time.”

But there was a difference.

Mr. McCarthy, admittedly, omitted the quotation marks in only one book, and he did so with no particular reason in mind other than to expriment.

Readers noticed. Even in some of the live seminars I was teaching back then, occasionally a writer would ask why he needed to set off dialogue with quotation marks. After all, Cormac McCarthy didn’t.

My answer was always the same: “What was the story about?”

Few could give me more than the title. What they most readily remembered was that McCarthy was a “big name” and omitted the quotation marks. Most of them didn’t even realize he’d done that in only one novel. Chances are, if you remember the title of that work, you tie its significance to the fact that he omitted quotation marks.

On the other hand, Jason Gurley, who understood the purpose and nuances of punctuation fully, misused the colon intentionally and masterfully to achieve a particular effect in the reader.

As the very fortunate copyeditor whom he called upon to edit his story, I can tell you his odd use of the colon had exactly the effect he intended.

And anyone who read the story could tell you what it was about: two returned Vietnam veterans, one who was fine and getting on with his life, and another whose life had imploded as a result of PTSD.

Nobody talked about his misuse of the colon. They didn’t even know it was a misuse. But they received the full impact of it in his story. The intense dramatic effect that intentional misuse caused was remarkable.

In Punctuation for Writers, I teach WHY punctuation works the way it does and how each mark affects the reader (then disappears) so a writer can use it to direct the reading of his work.

Armed with that complete understanding of the marks of punctuation, the writer can make an informed choice and actively wield punctuation as a tool rather than being frightened and unsure of it.

Or worse, thinking it doesn’t matter at all.

* * *

Punctuation for Writers is available wherever ebooks are sold for $9.99. Or you can buy direct by clicking the link at the beginning of this sentence and get it for only $8.00.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Homeowner ordered to hide his boat paints it on his fence

New gel breaks down alcohol in the body Of course, this breakthrough is currently available only to mice.

The Numbers

The Journal………………………………880

Writing of Blackwell Ops 25: No Name Yet

Day 1…… 3243 words. To date…… 3243

Fiction for May…………………….….… 12977
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 316762
Fiction since October 1………………… 619820
Nonfiction for May……………………… 14020
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 168360
2024 consumable words……………… 485122

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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