Composing your sentences: Please punctuate before it punches my brain. Seriously. Do it. You can. You can really do it. I've edited and critiqued so many works with such wrong or so little punctuation that it hurt my soul and made the process nearly intolerable. You don't even have to be a grammar natzi to do a good job of it after some research and practice. Utilize your beta readers and trade reviewing with others in order to improve one chapter at a time--and use someone who actually knows what they're doing. A lot of pretend editors do more harm than good--they're just as much a Noob as the next Noob, or they're EXTREMELY LAZY. You should be able to spot them, and if you can't, ask around. Don't always take the first "I'll do it!"
Most of us love to just concentrate on writing, and we love how it makes us feel. But in order to have other people enjoy the story you have spent so much time on-- possibly too much, or in many cases, not enough-- you need to edit just a little bit before posting it in any kind of forum--or a lot, lot more in the case of sending it on to an editor, agent, or POD (publish on demand). Otherwise, you may end up with everything jumbled up and legible only to yourself. And you CANNOT always trust those who love you to be honest. First, they're not writers, you are. Unless they are, in which case listen. Second, loved ones usually want to encourage you. They cannot even give a trained critique most of the time. They don't have the eye developed for plot, for character arcs, for mirror or red herrings, or most things technical. And a lot of them can't write very well, either. Some could pass college but gave English enough of a thought only to barely pass so they could focus on their career's core curriculum. Same with math--I was great at math, but don't you ever ask me to repeat any other formula but the quadratic equation. That's the only one I can repeat, and I know polynomials can be divided by other polynomials and binomials, and that matrices can be multiplied, too. I don't remember most of what I learned. Neither will they.
Old English is an excellent example of the lack of punctuation meaning only certain people could manage to make out one word from another, or to separate sentences. Did you know they used no spaces between their words, no periods or question marks, and no defining marks to end a sentence or begin one? Add to it that every letter had to look exactly the same way and touch one another. Let me think of a word that will really drive this home . . .
Can you read this? It is horrible. My eyes screamed a little. Yet somehow the priests and scholars who wrote it were able to decipher it. As the years passed, they began to realize what a pain it was. So they began to separate their words and even to come up with a system of spelling so that everything was set into units and categorized much easier. Things became easier to write and read, so documentation became more widely used. Our brains stop to ponder breaks in ideas (between sentences). We have to recall and understand how one idea leads to another; otherwise, the meaning is all jumbled. Therefore, the scholars decided there was a need for certain new marks that could tell when a sentence or idea ended and when another began. They also wanted to know when someone was asking a question or answering one. When something was emotionally evocative, or interrupted or clarified by another idea temporarily.
The above jumbled statement was a nightmare. Did you even bother to puzzle it out to the end? What if some of the words were spelled wrong and really didn't make sense after that? NIGHTMARE. This is what it said, but here again, I will not use any periods or punctuations of any kind-- not even capitalizations:
"i like ice it is delicious it is so delicious i envy ice ever dream of screaming over delicious ice it is cold and icy wow i like ice ice comes in winter ice is the color of glass ice is everything we need to make a nice drink cold and wear away the warm"
Ohhhh . . . So that made a little more sense? Uh. Yeah. But where are the punctuations? I'm still drowning in that word pond. You, too? Where does one sentence end, or another begin? Capitalizations help, don't they? Or do they? I am not saying there is a concrete way to punctuate something, just that you give me the symbol for the pause of breath you are wanting me to take between your lines. It does oh, so much ... doesn't it ... ? The " . . ." gives a thoughtful pause. The ". . . ?" gives the pause that ends with a confused question. The " . " gives the end of a statement where it is needed, and " , " is highly necessary in order to chop the head off of a run-on sentence.
Plus, there is-- wait-- that "--" right there. It is a course-changer-- oh, shit! Starboard! We are about to hit that--
Get my example? Imagine my having just written that as this: "Plus there is, wait, that "--" right there; it is a course-changer, oh, shit. Starboard? We are about to hit that."
It got a little more comical just then, didn't it? Haha, I felt like I was trying to read a script. Some felt right, like it flowed, the rest got a little . . . hesitant. Monotone and uninterested.
So please, writers, you can experiment, but re-read a paragraph and see how well it flows from the beginning of a paragraph to the end of one. I change mine several times before I am satisfied, giving the pissed sound of an angry character the malevolence he deserves, or the fear a gasping victim should convey the sound she deserves. Think of it as icing on an already decorated cake. Nobody likes an undecorated, ugly cake without icing. And it can't just be dumped on there and smeared over it. Take your time and craft it into that mouthwatering desert that makes our bloodsugar go through the roof because we just HAVE to take a bite.
Please be careful about run-on sentences, as well.
YOU ARE READING
Need help developing your skills, or just need to brush up on some tips when you are having writers' block? I use these techniques everyday when I write, right from my own store of private writer's cheat sheets. Also included are posts on creating...