I’ve decided to make my third post on punctuation. I must really want to turn off anyone stumbling on this site by accident.
I’m not always perfect at grammar, but it’s definitely something I notice. When I’m workshopping or alpha reading someone else’s work, improperly used punctuation really jumps out at me. I’ve heard several other authors who are just getting started say that they just don’t care about grammar.
I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s because one of the most helpful classes I took as an undergrad was Grammar of Modern English, where we basically just diagrammed sentences for a semester. Maybe it’s because my day job requires me to write pretty technical stuff, and my boss is a real stickler about grammar, punctuation, and word choice. Or maybe it’s because I don’t want to look foolish by improperly using dashes, now that I know there are people that are going to judge me if I just randomly pick between en-dashes and em-dashes or some dashing style totally of my own invention.
When I pick up a new book and the first chapter is so full of semicolons that I imagine the author had a bag of the things and just dumped it out on the page? I have to put the book down. Even when the semicolons are used properly, it’s such a strong punctuation signal that I start to feel like I’m being punched in the face with “these sentences are really, really related!” over and over again.
And if the punctuation is not used properly? Forget about it. There comes a point when bad punctuation distracts me so much that there is really no point in even trying to finish the story. If this is how I feel, I can only imagine how an editor is going to feel. Do you really want anyone who is going to maybe hopefully pretty-please going to want to buy this story to be so distracted by randomly sprinkled semicolons that they put the story down?
Punctuation is a very important tool to impart a message. And as a writer, language is my most important tool. It affects a message almost as much as word choice does. And I really don’t understand authors who don’t want to learn more about how to use language.