Pay attention to Punctuation

by juliusmsanz

A great part of my volunteer work is spent teaching youths how to study properly, with that come so many interesting aspects of writing that it has been easy to keep my focus. I’ll give you one example when I explained punctuation just the other day:

Get rid of bankers no good people.

Now I understand this is poor English but bear with me. This sentence could be written in two ways that have completely opposite meanings.

Get rid of bankers, no good people. – What this is saying is that bankers aren’t good people, but now take a good look at this:

Get rid of bankers? No, good people. – Now this is a fragment, but as you can see it changes the meaning of the sentence. It says that bankers are good people.

Now another couple of things of interest: paragraphs and commas.

When writing essays and whatnot people keep forgetting about the importance of paragraphs. What a paragraph does, in my personal viewpoint, is simple: it breaks a sequence to change a bit of anything you want. You want to mention a new character with more depth? Start a paragraph. You want to change the scene a little bit in the same chapter? Change the paragraph. It might sound easy enough, but even I have trouble with paragraphs sometimes.

And then comes the matter of commas. This is why I’ll always advise people to read their stories out loud. When we write we are in a completely different mindset, we are not readers, even if we read what we write we still cannot consider ourselves as readers. A big part of writing as to do with flow, which is why punctuation is so important. Punctuation can change a text in a weird way, as I wrote before, and when we write we often forget about the concept of pauses.

A pause exists to give the reader a bit of time to catch his/her breath. It may not be that apparent, but when you read a story aloud then you can certainly tell the difference. That is what can separate an average book from a great book. And no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating here.

How can you fix this problem? It is very simple: all you have to do is read your story as if you’re reading it to somebody. Just let me give you a little piece of advice: if you do decide to do this do not, and I mean it, correct things as you find them. You will lose a lot of time and lose the flow of your story. I cannot begin to describe the amount of time I lost when doing this with a 40.000 word manuscript. And don’t try to read it enthusiastically either, you would never be able to find out what to fix in terms of emphasis later on. Use the monotone so that when you listen to your recording, yeah you have to record yourself otherwise it would just be a huge waste of time, you can find which parts need to be worked on.

So the key points today are: mind the punctuation, record yourself reading your manuscript, and try to find ways of correcting your mistakes. Don’t add pauses if you don’t have them, don’t try to make a part sound better than what you wrote. You’ll be surprised with what you might hear.

That is all for today, have a nice day!