Improper use of punctuation can make or break a sentence, but what’s worse is that it can also turn your readers away. You might ask, “Does punctuation really matter?” The answer is, “Yes, it really matters”.
The purpose of “punctuation” is to turn a group of run on words into a meaningful reading passage. Punctuation breaks the monotony of many words and forms them into separate thoughts, actions and dialogue. Without punctuation the story has no meaning and few people would bother to read it, except for maybe those who want the challenge of attempting the impossible. And yet at the same time, the page of words with incorrect punctuation can be just as boring and meaningless.
Many authors don’t give proper respect to the various forms of punctuation and as a result their stories don’t flow smoothly and don’t always make sense. Here are a few pointers supported by the Encarta Dictionary on how to use punctuation properly.
The comma (,) is used to mark a slight pause in a sentence or to separate words and numbers in a list.
The period (.) is used at the end of a sentence to indicate the end of that set of words.
The semi-colon (;) is used when the point of the sentence is not finished and another related point is to be included.
The colon (:) the punctuation mark used to divide distinct but related sentence components such as clauses in which the second elaborates on the first, or to introduce a list, quotation, or speech. A colon is sometimes used in U.S. business letters after the salutation. Colons are also used between numbers in statements of proportion or time and Biblical or literary references.
Question mark (?) is the punctuation mark that’s placed at the end of a sentence or phrase intended as a direct question. It is also used after a word or phrase whose appropriateness is in doubt, or after a number or date whose accuracy is in doubt.
Quotations (“and”) are the punctuation marks used before and after a direct quote, dialogue, or reference passage from a book or magazine.
Both commas and semi-colons are the most frequently misused punctuation marks. While commas are more common and are often used in stories, the use of the semi-colon is not a preferred punctuation mark to be used in the same context. Most traditional publishers do not encourage the use of the semi-colon and prefer the sentence to be written using a comma, or to be rewritten into one thought.
As the manager of a writing group on LinkedIn that sponsors a monthly writing competition, I see many short stories written with improper punctuation. This subject was pounded into me at college and I want to encourage other aspiring writers to know how to use punctuation correctly.
There is an awesome site online where we can go and learn all about punctuation. It’s an educational site called The Punctuation Tree and it’s an excellent learning resource for writers. It not only teaches how to use the various punctuation marks correctly, but it elaborates on all the other aspects of writing including sentence parts and functions. I encourage every aspiring author to bookmark this page!
Many authors create exciting and dynamic stories, but their downfall is their lack of knowledge regarding punctuation. This is one of the first things that publishers look for, and it’s the one thing that will separate the wannabees from the professional writers. As authors we want all the help we can get to perfect our work, so let’s use all the tools like The Punctuation Tree and make it right!