Grammar and punctuation, that’s right, the subjects that caused so many sleepless nights in grammar school (elementary school). Grammar and punctuation with all those nit-picky rules about clauses, apostrophes, colons, periods, semicolons, tenses, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum. No, I’m not going into all that. Let if suffice to say that like everything else in this world, grammar and punctuation evolve, change, and adapt to the needs and desires of society.
The long and interesting history of grammar and punctuation is touched on here. You can read it for yourself. Personally, I tend to use conversational punctuation because I like to think about cadence of writing as if it were spoken rather than written. My style of writing reflects my style of public speaking, whether to an informal group, a formal presentation, or in the classroom.
For instance, I prefer short, compact sentences. I tend to place commas where I would break for a breath or dramatic emphasis. I also try to keep my paragraphs and chapters short so the reader can savor the words bite by bite, rather than compelling them to devour large chunks.
Many years ago, I learned when giving a presentation to treat the text more like a poem than a block of words in a paragraph. For instance, if I were to read the following paragraph from Any Tomorrow: The Calling:
He could see the charred sticker with the slogan “Visualize World Peace” tenuously adhered by a single point to the bumper of the rusted blue Volvo. It waved slowly, like the flag of some forlorn and forgotten country, tattered but uncapitulated. The warm breeze that gently moved it was much cooler and less violent than the wind that originally set the vehicle ablaze. How it was that the sticker survived the inferno that melted the tires and left both the vehicle’s interior and its inhabitants barely recognizable was less a matter of speculation than relevance, for amid the artifacts that attested to the end of humankind, a sticker on one burned out hulk among the scattered millions would have barely mattered. For those that encouraged others to “Visualize World Peace” the point that world peace had been at long last established was also no longer a matter of any great import. They were dead, their planet brought to ruin and wasted, with only the silence attesting to the achievement of peace.
I would divide it into phrases, such as:
He could see the charred sticker
with the slogan “Visualize World Peace”
tenuously adhered by a single point
to the bumper of the rusted blue Volvo.
It waved slowly,
like the flag of some forlorn and forgotten country,
tattered but uncapitulated.
The warm breeze that gently moved it
was much cooler and less violent
than the wind that originally set the vehicle ablaze.
And so on. Visualizing the prose in such a way gives the otherwise linear stream of text a cadence, much more like a poem and certainly smoother than a block of narrative. Good writing should flow over the lips as easily as it flows through the mind. If you create a sentence that has to be read several times before the meaning is clear, there may be a problem greater than grammar and punctuation.
One last thought. Rather than being a slave to structure and the rules of grammar and punctuation, be a slave to meaning. If you can convey the meaning you intended, chances are the grammar and punctuation will be right also.
I try very hard to structure my words as I have described, just as I try to fulfill the requirements of good grammar and punctuation. Do I always succeed? No, but I do try and as long as I’m satisfied that my meaning gets through, that’s probably enough.
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