Monday, April 16, 2007
Punctuation To Spice Up Your Story
I'll readily admit it: it's been too many years since Mrs. Billie Casey tried to instill the rules of punctuation into me in the hallowed halls of Decatur High School. Oh, I know when to insert periods and question marks. I realize that exclamation points should be used sparingly. I'm pretty good at putting quotation marks where they below. Then again, there's the comma.
When Dr. Dennis Hensley, that stern taskmaster who teaches writing at Taylor University, did line-editing on some of my work, he threw out so many commas that I considered selling the excess on eBay. My rule of thumb on commas, other than using them to set off parenthetical expressions such as this one, or to separate several words in a series, was to insert them in a compound sentence at the point where I'd normally pause for breath--whether the clause that followed was independent or subordinate. That ended when Dennis "got a-hold of me," as we'd say on the prairies of North Texas where I grew up. His red pencil sent me scurrying for my reference books. I have a number of them, and I read them all; but I'd never found a book on punctuation that I actually enjoyed reading--until this one came along. Noah Lukeman's A Dash Of Style.
Lukeman is the author of a number of excellent books, probably the most well-known of which is The First Five Pages. He's an agent, and in his books he uses his experience to teach writers and would-be writers valuable lessons. I bought A Dash Of Style in hopes that it would make punctuation easier for me. It did, but the story doesn't end there. Lukeman discusses punctuation marks as they affect the sense of the sentence, the way it would sound when read. He talks about varying the pace of the writing through the use of commas, periods, semicolons, colons, dashes, and even the despised parenthesis. I can't begin to relate all the lessons of the book, nor would I even try. After all, as all authors know, it's best to give a taste of the book and hope that it sends the reader scurrying out to buy a copy.
I recommend A Dash Of Style and would like to thank B.J. Hoff for listing it in her recommended books for authors. B.J., once again, I owe you.