1. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    How Important Is punctuation

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Flying Geese, Nov 25, 2013.

    For instance, I left the question mark out of the thread title. (Dammit!)

    What I am really talking about though is commas. Commas and semi-colons and hyphens. There are a ton of extra rules for punctuation and I am wondering...how much do these rules matter? Is breaking a subtle rule enough to keep you from getting published? Or worse, is it enough to make a reader put your book down?

    Also, does anyone know of any punctuation checking software that is available? For buy or for free
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Well, the only writing in writing fiction is knowing English grammar, so yeah, you should learn it as best as possible.
    Commas should be something you know well as you'll use them more than anything. Hyphens not as much and semi-colons are very rarely used.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Punctuation matters in that you should learn how to use it properly. On the other hand, authors can be quite creative with the use of punctuation, such as not using commas where they would traditionally go (to speed up the pace) or not using quotation marks to show dialogue. So let me put it this way: if there's a reason for breaking the rules, then it's fine, but if you do something like use a semicolon incorrectly, then it's not fine.

    Regarding software, you shouldn't rely on it to correct your grammar because software can make mistakes. Learning and knowing grammar rules is very important for a writer.
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A few comma splices or improperly used semi colons won't stop a publisher from offering a contract. However, if it's rife with problems, to the point that it distracts from the story... Editors and agents look for a reason to reject a novel, rather than reasons to accept them (they get far far far more submissions than they could ever hope to represent/publish).

    If you're going to self-publish, getting the punctuation right falls on the author's shoulders. Hiring an editor is something to consider.

    Software isn't very accurate when attempting to identify problems, especially with dialogue, dialogue tags and the like.

    The best thing to do is to study and learn and improve.
     
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  5. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Pandas - eats, shoots and leaves
    Pandas - eats shoots and leaves.

    I saw a signpost for a car-parts shop in Reno the other day - it read - '4 wheel parts' instead of '4-wheel parts'. It looked like the shop only sold 4 parts for wheels when in fact it sold everything for 4-wheel drives. Now how important is punctuation?
     
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  6. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    Is it true that semicolons are rarely used in fiction?
     
  7. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Honestly, I didn't mean it as a fact but I, personally, rarely see it.
    It conjoins two separate phrases that can be both standalone but compliment each other. It doesn't seem to pop up often.
    I could just be not noticing it.
     
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  8. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Having good punctuation in writing is similar to the effect wearing a shirt and tie to a job interview is.
     
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  9. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Also, I wouldn't trust any software, those tend to make too many contextual mistakes as they can't detect certain nuances...

    I'd just write as best I can, read up on it, and have a reader help you spot grammar errors.
    Best way to learn.
     
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  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of the above...

    thanks for saying it for me, terry!

    love and hugs, maia
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2013
  11. lex
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    lex Contributing Member

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    Probably not, but breaking a couple on the first two or three pages typically will, because (understandably) it will prevent your manuscript from being read and taken seriously.

    Again, one probably isn't. But this question is a little more academic, because a publisher's editor (if your manuscript gets that far) is going to correct your mistakes before publication. If you self-publish and include punctuation mistakes, it's going to look unprofessional, alienate some readers and get some bad reviews.

    It matters. If you want people to spend money on buying your product, your product needs to be professionally designed and produced.
     
  12. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I need to learn a lot about punctuation myself, but from what I see, when it is done correctly, you hardly notice it. But when not, it's like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard.
     
  13. Alf
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    Alf New Member

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    This is a great way to put it. A story may be a great candidate for the job (of keeping he entertained), but if it couldn't be bothered to dress itself well in correct punctuation, why should I take the time to find out? First impressions are everything.
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well @Alf is right, but punctuation isn't just dressing up. It actually conveys meaning. If you don't use punctuation correctly, you won't just put people off because they notice mistakes and think you're a sloppy writer. You'll put people off because your story is unreadable and makes little or no sense. Eats, shoots, and leaves versus eats shoots and leaves, for example. Get that wrong, and you've got a panda with a gun.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2013
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  15. Alf
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    Alf New Member

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    Agreed. I guess I was thinking more in terms of minor infractions, like, too, many, commas; or a semicolon, just because. Cases in which a decent story exists if I put the effort into correcting the mistakes as I read, but why should I? That's the writer's job. My job is to get lost in the work.
     
  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    HAH! I was about to recommend that very book myself. I, too, have seen so many poorly punctuated sentences that totally change the meaning, often to quite horrifying or humorous results.

    Yeh. Anyone stumbling with their punctuation should definitely grab a copy of Lynn Truss' book, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

    Just one wholly amusing explanation of the book's title:
    You can read more bon mot from Truss' book here
     
  17. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    The trick, of course, is that you must know the rules before you can intelligently break them.
     
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  18. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I first heard it about a Panda walking into a brothel - you can guess the rest :D
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A good working knowledge of punctuation is a core competency for a writer. As Terry said, a few slips won't put you in a bad light. After all, we all make miss takes.

    But publishers are looking for competent professionals to work with, and sloppy punctuation sends the opposite impression.

    Your question could be rephrased as, "How important is it that the publisher takes you seriously?"
     
  20. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    This is all true here. I definitely have the skills to make. Actually I have the best grammar and English out of almost everyone I know in real life. (My two other friends, same age are good). But every now and then you just have those moments where you are tormented by "This could be a comma sure...but a semi-colon...no a hyphen? ....an ellipsis?...."

    Anybody know what I mean? The remedy I am using right now is to simply read it aloud.
     
  21. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    The mantra holds true:

    One must learn the rules, before they can break them, so they can properly, and cleverly know when and where the rules must be broken.

    A good example would be Jose Saramago's Blindness, or any of his work in general. He's completely flipped conventional style on its head and not only added an element of uniqueness to his prose, but has re-invented some spokes of the narrative-wheel, so to speak.

    He has entire pages where commas function both grammatically and as devices that do nothing but separate related and non-related clauses, in attempt to mimic oration, or the more traditional style of story telling, based on how people talk and cadences used by speaking aloud.

    He also punctuates dialogue in a completely alien way, by capitalizing the first letter of a clause or sentence to signify a new or change in speaker. Such as (my own example):

    Jane came into the store, looking unkempt in both her appearance and dress, though no less beautiful than usual. Hello, she said to the store clerk, Good morning, responded the clerk, what are your plans today? I have none, really, was supposed to meet up with my boyfriend eventually and grab lunch, but we'll see, he's been so terribly busy, This the same guy you've been with for the last year? Yes, things have gotten kind of serious, Do you think you'll marry? How should I know? You women always know these kinds of things well before the men do, I guess.
     
  22. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    All I can say is I sincerely hope that was intended as sarcasm. First of all, I would suggest you learn when and how to use the ellipsis and what purpose it serves. (That and, maybe you need to start hanging around with a better class of friends.)
     
  23. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    How would you define a "better class of friends"? I'm just wondering. :rolleyes:
    I must second you, though, in that I do hope the post in question was supposed to retain a element of satire.

    To the OP, You realize you are in a writing forum, right? While it is by no means essential to memorize all of the rules of grammar, one would think (or at least I do) that to be a writer of any credibility, having a sound understanding of punctuation is an absolute must. Maybe you don't have to be able to teach it to others or explain the rules, but you MUST know how and why it works.
    I'm still learning, and I won't stop studying punctuation until I've got it right. Grammar and punctuation are the only ways to truly measure a writer's ability to communicate through because they are what control how a text should be read and understood. If a writer can't get that down, it's a challenge to give an eye to what they are actually trying to say. You don't go anywhere in writing, in my opinion, unless your punctuation is solid. It's like Level-One. ;)
     
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  24. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Of course everyone likes someone that is punctual. :D
     
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  25. We Are Cartographers
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    We Are Cartographers Active Member

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