Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Power of Punctuation

Punctuation in all the right places can have a tremendous impact on a piece of writing. And, the opposite is true - punctuation in all the wrong places can greatly hinder a piece of writing. Or, even change the meaning of it, altogether.

Here's an example I love to give my students (I can't take credit for this - a friend sent this to me in a "forward" last year):

I write this sentence on the board:

Woman without her man is nothing.

I pause and let the students take in the meaning. Then, I punctuate the sentence this way:

Woman - without her, man is nothing.

I pause again and watch the students' faces change. They start to smile and nod their heads in understanding.

Punctuation is a powerful thing. In creative writing, I personally love to use dashes for dramatic pauses. I find them more effective than periods sometimes. Commas are another issue. I tend to overuse them, but I notice that in published creative fiction, they can be quite sparse. I think too many or too few (of anything) can be a bad thing. But, the good news is that it's up to the individual writer. Reading your work aloud, to "hear" the need for a short pause (,) or long pause (--) is always a great idea. Thankfully, in creative fiction, we're allowed some freedoms that formal writing doesn't offer.

So, consider punctuation thoughtfully. Consider its importance and the way it can enhance or detract from your writing. Because it's an intregal part of the communication process - and of creative fiction. ;-)


  1. I totally agree. I am not by any means an expert at punctuation, but I try.

  2. I've been struggling to find the difference in use between ellipses and em dash. Punctuation is vital, but complicated.

  3. You know what - - I want to take some of your classes. Seriously.

  4. B - how awesome would that be?! Seriously!

    Wendy - I know what you mean. I guess it's just a personal preference, as far as dashes vs. ellipses. I tend to use dashes more often - I think they provide a dramatic pause. I use ellipses more in dialogue, when a character trails off...

  5. Good point! Even in my job, when reading aloud to children, it's important to be aware of the meaning of what I read...sometimes this requires a practice session so I emphasize where needed.