Search Results for: punctuation

Punctuation: praise it or punch it on the nose?

Are you a slave to proper punctuation? Or is punctuation a slave to you?

Being a pro writer and author and all that, I have given dozens (literally) of traditional editors self-induced alopaecia after reading my book manuscripts. Why? Because I don’t stick to punctuation rules.

Article on punctuation

Punctuation rules: should they be relaxed? Now there’s a puzzle

Being a North American, too, I use punctuation that spans the Atlantic giving the grammar police on both shores the desire to stab me with a red pencil.

And you know what? I don’t care.

Don’t forget that I am a former copywriter, and copywriters are notorious for flipping the bird at conventional grammar, punctuation and even syntax sometimes in order to create an effect.

Ridiculously bad punctuation: not what we’re talking about

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Wanna dance the punctuation boogie?

In honour of National Punctuation Day (yes, really) yesterday, September 24th, 2016, here is my favourite tribute to punctuation and its stablemates…

Wanna dance the punctuation boogie?

Happy National Punctuation Day, USA

With grovelling thanks to the wonderful “Weird Al” Yankovic who is the only person ever to make me laugh, dance and rant about poor GSPS (Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation, Syntax) all at the same time.

Let’s dance…

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And you think I make a noise about punctuation?

small_4968053I know some people think I’m a Grammar Nazi, but I also have a sense of humor … and this video of the late, great Victor Borge is one of the funniest send-ups of punctuation I have ever seen. Please watch it: it will have you in stitches!

Borge became especially famous in the 1950s when television became widespread in North America. I remember my parents telling me about him and once I was a) born and b) old enough to appreciate his humor, I became a fan, too.

I had forgotten just how hilarious his skits were until I happened upon this YouTube selection, shared via my good friend Angela Boothroyd – an immensely capable teacher of English as a second language – over on Facebook.

If you enjoy this, you might also like Lynne Truss’s ever-popular book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” which has been a best-seller for some years now. Lynne makes no apologies for being a strident Grammar Nazi and in her biting, hilarious manner makes the whole “write it right” argument not only funny, but very credible.

And if you want some simple, straightforward help to ensure you avoid the 1,500 top grammar, spelling and punctuation goofs we all trip over, have a look at this eBook…(it’s on special offer for another few days, too, so hurry.)

But now, sit back and enjoy. The performance is probably the best part of 50 years old but, as with all brilliant humor, it’s timeless.

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family – from just $2.50

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: the beauty of good punctuation


Welcome to Part Twenty of this popular series – this week, novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher looks at punctuation: not a boring technical issue, but an incredibly valuable tool to bring your writing alive with meaning, depth and added interest. 

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Punctuation – sense and sensibility

In my experience as an editor, too many fiction writers seem to think that the rules of grammar, and especially those of punctuation, just get in the way of their creativity. Nothing could be further from the truth… [Read more…]

How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: sentence structure and punctuation


Welcome to Part Fourteen of our popular fiction series. This week, Lucy looks at sentence structure and punctuation – important writing elements that apply not only to fiction, but to all good writing, so take careful note! For all the articles in the series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Sentence structure and punctuation

Whether you are “showing”, “telling” or composing dialogue, your writing should communicate your meaning to the reader with maximum ease and clarity.

‘Be kind to your reader,’ was one of the best pieces of advice once given to me by an editor. By this, she meant that making prose simple to understand and easy to follow (however complex the action or ideas) for readers is the best way to keep them engaged in your story.

To do this, it’s essential to write grammatically and use punctuation correctly – not for the sake of sticking to rules, but because grammar and punctuation are tools of good communication. They provide a window through which the reader ‘sees’ your scenes: well-written narrative gives the reader such a clear view that they are not even aware of the glass through which they are looking; mis-punctuated writing with poor grammatical construction is like a dirty window that the reader is constantly distracted by, and through which they peer with difficulty in order to ‘see’ what’s going on.

Let’s go back to basics.

The sentence is the fundamental building block of prose writing. A sentence can be short or long, but its essential components are:

  • to start with a capital letter
  • to end with a fullstop/period, and
  • to contain a subject and verb (the subject is a noun or pronoun who/that carries out the verb)

‘I go.’ or ‘I am.’ are perhaps the shortest possible, if not the most elegant, sentences in the English language.

The house was falling down.

War had started.

Amy cooked the breakfast. (this last has an object, the breakfast, as well as a subject)

These are all complete, grammatical simple sentences. They comprise a single, independent clause.

Imperative sentences, such as exclamations – ‘Hello!’ – commands – ‘Get moving!’ –  and requests – ‘Please sit down.’ – are the only exceptions to the subject/verb sentence rule.

Simple sentences, like all these above, need no further punctuation. They are ideal for punchy statements, brusque dialogue and giving a staccato feel to quick action sequences. But your readers would quickly tire of an entire story written like this; with more complex sentence structures comes the greater need to punctuate carefully for sense and readability.

Compound sentences are easy enough: they are essentially two related, simple sentences stuck together with a conjunction, such as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘because’, etcetera.

Amy cooked the breakfast although war had started.

This compound sentence, composed of two independent clauses (which could each be a stand-alone sentence), doesn’t require any internal punctuation. If, though, you add a third clause –

Amy cooked the breakfast, although war had started and the house was falling down.

 – adding a comma after the main clause makes it easier for the reader to comprehend.

As a general rule (though there are exceptions, one of which is the Oxford comma), do not put a comma before an ‘and’; always put a comma before ‘but’.

How to write fictions without the fuss

Amy cooked breakfast despite
highly dramatic circumstances!
Check out Lucy’s tips on how to get
the grammar, syntax and punctuation just right…

To join two related clauses/sentences without a conjunction – and so create a more enigmatic sentence – use a semi-colon.

Amy cooked breakfast; the war had started and the house was falling down.

(The context in which you have written this compound sentence should show the reader that these three clauses are related!)

It is incorrect to use a semi-colon with a conjunction, so you would not write: Amy cooked breakfast; although the war had started.

Compound sentences are useful for connecting facts and good to mix into your narrative style, but you need more variation than simple and compound sentences to express more involved ideas and situations.

Complex sentences are the next step up the prose ladder and the most dynamic and interesting kind of sentence – to read and to write. The most basic complex sentence consists of a main clause and a dependent clause. The main clause can stand alone, but dependent clauses on their own turn into mere fragments.

Anna, ignoring the fact that the house was falling down, made the breakfast.

Here, Anna made the breakfast is the main clause, while ignoring the fact that the house was falling down is the sub-clause (and doesn’t stand alone).

The key to punctuating complex sentences is knowing where to place the commas.

This is not – as you may have been taught in school – about inserting a comma where you would pause when speaking. It is about separating the sub-clause(s) from the main clause. The sub-clause can come at the start or end of a complex sentence; in either case it only needs one comma to separate it off:

Ignoring the fact that the house was falling down, Anna made the breakfast.

Anna made the breakfast, ignoring the fact that the house was falling down.

If you place the sub-clause in the middle of the sentence, though, it must be separated by a comma on both sides:

Anna, ignoring the fact that the house was falling down, made the breakfast.

Too often, writers omit one of the commas around a central sub-clause, making a sentence hard, if not nonsensical, to read. I would rather see no commas at all than only one around a sub-clause.

Commas should be used in the same way to separate conjunctions: However, war had started. War had started, however. War, however, had started.

At the peak of sentence complexity sits the complex-compound sentence. As you might have guessed, this is a combination of compound and complex sentences. They have two or more main clauses, at least one dependent clause, and often need careful use of the full range of punctuation marks to make sense.

To engage and stimulate your reader’s imagination, use a variety of sentence structures in your narrative. You can get the most information across and develop more detailed ideas using complex or complex-compound sentences, but simple and compound sentences are good for straightforward facts, punchy dialogue and fast-moving action..

More about sentence structure and punctuation next week!

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD now available!
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here

How to make your self-published book look like it’s been traditionally published

How often have you looked at a self-published book and seen straightaway that it’s a DIY job? It’s not just poor content that gives it away; in fact many truly good books are ruined by goofs which mainly are simple and cheap to correct.

article about self-publishing books

Can you tell if a book has been traditionally or self-published?

Here are 11 key points to watch out for:

Is the cover attractive and designed so when its image is shrunk down to a small size as it would be on Amazon or other sites, you can still see the key points? Make sure your book’s cover is properly designed: it’s well worth paying for a professional cover designer to do it. [Read more…]