Today I pampered myself. I got a massage and a pedicure, but best of all, I re-read a book about punctuation. I know that does not rank up there on the list of 50 Favorite Hobbies, but I am smitten with commas, semi-colons, and parentheses. And I adore paragraphs.
Consider this: just twenty six letters, organized with periods and question marks, became To Kill a Mockingbird. Good prose is a matter of interior design. A few things I've learned about writing:
- Use variety. A sentence can be a long, wordy string of words, with commas breaking things up, like this. It can actually be two sentences; just put a semi-colon in the middle. Do you see how punctuation adds visual interest? It's amazing!
- If you want to tell your reader something confidential (like a secret) whisper it in parentheses.
- Long paragraphs are intimidating. Without some visual space we get claustrophobic. Compare reading a magazine to reading the little warning sheet that comes inside the Tylenol bottle. The contrast is a reminder to hit the return key often. Short paragraphs make readers feel welcome.
- Use your dictionary; spell check can only do so much. A precise word conveys the right meaning. Is your sister erratic or erotic? (The computer doesn't pick up the difference.)
- Quote an expert. In Writing With Style, John R. Trimble said, "View your reader as a companionable friend–someone with a warm sense of humor and a love of simple directness. Write like you're actually talking to that friend, but talking with enough leisure to frame your thoughts concisely and interestingly."
- WRITING IN ALL CAPS SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE YELLING.
- if you adopt a style for creative purposes, be consistent. you want your readers to know it's intentional.
- Unless you're training for a marathon and have to keep going even when you're exhausted remember to put commas in to give your readers a chance to take a breath before they faint.
- Ellipses are used to show that you've left a word out of a quotation. Rudolf Flesch said, "Punctuation . . . is the most important single device for making things easier to read." When . . . are used incorrectly . . . we wonder . . . what we are missing . . .
- Explanation points! They can be overdone! Use them sparingly!