1. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    minimal punctuation in novels

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by John Carlo, Jan 11, 2011.

    Hey all,
    Just curious. I recently finished reading Tinkers by Paul Harding, and now I'm reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy (both Pulitzer Prize winners, btw). What struck me as odd, with both books, is the lack of punctuation in them. For instance, there are no quotation marks when people speak, hardly any commas and so forth. What's the deal with that? Does anybody know?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's a stylistic preference, which is found mostly in literary fiction. I remember some famous writer (it might have been McCarthy) saying that quotes distracted from the narrative. It's really a personal choice, and I've noticed that more and more literary fiction writers take this approach for both stories and novels.
     
  3. Loki7734
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    Loki7734 New Member

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    You could make a case for it representing the sparse, desolate nature of the book's theme, although I think it's just the author's preference. Personally, I like having punctuation there, because it makes the book easier to read. I can't see a reason otherwise.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically a sentence is a group of words that make sense that begins with a captial letter and ends in a stop. How else the punctuation is done is stylistic choices - done in the standard school way, it is easier to read. Done in other ways it affects the appearance (sp??) and flow of the text.

    I used shorter, sometimes choppy sentences with extra punctuation in my first book because it was the mind of a seventeen year old boy. Inside the mind of an older man I use longer sentences.

    With my new one want shorter ones for aburpt Gran and longer ones the more considered gently Grandad and faster punctuation for the little boy.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Like thirdwind says, it's an aesthetic thing. It stems from writers like McCarthy and the many other postmodern authors who write in a similarly minimal manner becoming more aware of how prose looks on the page and how punctuation affects their words. Purists reject it, insisting that the emphasis should be placed solely on the writing, and making it as readable as possible, while supporters insist that the style and aesthetic of a novel is of considerable importance and should not necessarily be left to a publisher to decide.
     
  6. Clumsywordsmith
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    Clumsywordsmith Active Member

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    McCarthy was difficult for me to get used to. I enjoyed him -- I really did -- but at times the purist within me began to wonder if perhaps the writing could have been improved with the addition of a few commas. Well, more than just a few. Part of the whole joy of writing (for me personally, obviously not for everyone) is the careful crafting of well-puncuated sentences. It didn't really bother me in McCarthy's case, as it's obvious he's an excellent writer... but it's a fine line to navigate, the one between attempting to create a literary effect and simply creating a poorly written work.

    I certainly wouldn't recommend it for anyone writing their first novel, but that's just me.
     
  7. CJStarkey
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    CJStarkey Member

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    Try reading Jose Saramago's Blindness. If that doesn't drive you crazy, nothing will! (However, I loved the story.)

    I read The Road by McCarthy as well, and for me the lack of punctuation really took away from the story itself. I much prefer to know who's speaking and when without having to go back and re-read what just went on to try to guess at the speaker from context.
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, good writing is invisible writing. Parts may call attention to themselves for artistic purposes, but if I'm constantly aware that I'm reading a text, something in it has failed. Almost complete omission of punctuation would make me pull my hair out.

    This is all personal preference. If you like the minimal style then go for it. Don't otherwise.
     
  9. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Yes, I agree. It's most problematic during dialog. Thank goodness, there's only two people in the story (so far, any way). I've had to re-read a few things already. But just like Harding's Tinkers, the writing is excellent, so I guess a few authors can pull it off. I was beginning to think it was a rule to win the Pulitzer these days.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there are exceptions to any rule... however, till you've made a name for yourself, it's best to follow them, if you want to be taken seriously and have your work read...
     
  11. Irontrousers
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    Irontrousers Member

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    Like you. You seem to use ellipses in place of every kind of punctuation ever. Is it because you think it makes you sound important and mysterious? Who knows. Point is, you roll how you roll, and that is just super.

    I josh, of course. Punctuate the way you feel is natural for your story. Unless you feel drawn to some other particular stylistic choice, just listen to what your English teachers said. You don't have to automatically disregard their advice just because it turns out they're usually wrong.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    better upgrade your reading skills, or get a new pair of glasses, buddy... take a look at the sample you provided and you'll see 3 commas there!... [and note the '!'s here!]

    nonsense!... are you being intentionally smarmy and rude?

    fyi, when writing for publication, i do use proper punctuation, etc.... i only indulge in my own idiosyncratic style when posting, writing email, and adding notes to all the work people send me when wanting help to improve their writing, since it saves much time and trouble for me, as i do that all day, every day...

    sure didn't sound/feel like it... but i'll take your word for it, until/unless proven otherwise... ;-)

    getting back to the subject at hand, when just starting out, new writers would be wise to stick to the established norms, if they want to maximize their chances of getting published... they can save the fancy stuff for after they've some best-sellers under their belt and can get away with it...
     
  13. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just playing devil's advocate -- how many do become bestselling authors to begin with, by writing totally standard language? Isn't unique voice a selling point?
     
  14. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    Breaking the rules is hard work. The traditional rules of writing exist to make life easier for the reader; to give the story clarity, pace, and flow. To successfully toss those rules out the window means that the writer has to find alternate means to create that same clarity, pace, and flow. That is tough. And is only done with a specific purpose in mind. In The Road the world has become a bleak, desolate, hopeless place which has been stripped of everything 'normal', so the prose has been stripped of all the 'normal' conventions also.

    When I read The Road I new from the start that I was reading some excellent writing (partly because of McCarthy's reputation), yet it still took me a third of the book to warm up to the stylistic choices he made. If you don't have a name editors recognize, they won't invest that sort of time. I would be willing to bet that early works by the writers we are talking about here all stuck closely to traditional structure and to the normal rules.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no such thing as 'totally standard language'... that's not what 'established norms' means...

    and every author has a 'unique' voice, unless they're copying someone else's...
     

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