Preventing Amateur Writing with Simple Punctuation Tips
Learn how simple punctuation tips can help your writing read more clearly and professionally.
“Carla ran toward the open door, thrusting herself forward and barely catching the knob before it slammed shut!”
Carla may be in trouble, but something else is wrong, too. Yeah, that thing! The tall, thin punctuation used for interjections is what’s wrong! Why? I’ll tell you why, and this will be the last exclamation mark I use to express my excitement on the subject. Whee!
For more information on cutting unnecessary things in your story, read this article on other things you can cut out of your story, filler words.
What are two things commonly found in children’s books?
You guessed one of them. Another is that “bang” you’ll see after the preceding narrative says something fell hard, which is known as onomatopoeia. The former is an exclamation mark. There are dozens of other things found in children’s books, but today I’m going to talk about the exclamation point and onomatopoeia.
Children don’t read emotion, action, and implied meaning like we do. They aren’t as experienced in assuming things through written word, which is why interjections (!) and written sounds (onomatopoeia) are necessary. Even all-caps is used. It’s obvious what they mean, so I won’t waste time explaining that; however, you should understand that as an experienced reader, you wouldn’t want to see these everywhere in something you read.
What is experienced?
Readers who have earned experience (as readers) can recognize certain emotion for themselves, as well as sounds and the quality of a scene. Keep in mind, this is for the sake of this post. As a result, anything that suggests they don’t know what you’re writing can mean one of two things:
- You didn’t want to take time to show it in your writing
- You don’t have faith in your own words
- You think the reader is stupid
Yes, I know I said “two” things. I hope you don’t think your reader is stupid, so I’m automatically taking that one out of your options, but I left it up there to identify what your interjections and onomatopoeia might imply.
Your reader isn’t stupid. If you’re writing children’s books, you have an all-access pass to ignore this article not because your readers are stupid (They’re not; my eight-year-old niece is already doing long division in third grade, and I still spend five minutes reminding myself what long division is.) but because they are inexperienced readers. They haven’t read enough words. So get writing. They need to read your words. 🙂
That aside, you have two left. If you don’t want to take the time to show what the dialogue means emotionally or verbally, you should work out your brain more so it’s not trying to become lazy. You’re a writer. Write well. This is your voice. Don’t take it lightly.
If you don’t have faith in your own words, let me be the first to tell you that you need to join Authors’ Tale; find a support group that you’re willing to participate in. Insecurity isn’t acceptable. Your readers need to read your words, and they can’t do that if you’re insecure about what you have to offer. Trust me. It’s easier to write when your hand isn’t trembling over the keyboard.
So, no interjections . . . ever?
Wrong. There’s a difference between “I hate you.” and “I hate you!” If the interjection is in narrative, however, then yes. Don’t use interjections in narrative. It doesn’t add to the story. It doesn’t contribute to a suspenseful scene, and it doesn’t make me scream with you. This is something I’ll see and not turn back on when I press the backspace and replace it with a period. Removing an exclamation mark will never harm a narrative. (Never say never.) But seriously. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a period will read nicer in narrative. Punctuation expresses a lot in a story, but it’s stylistic. Punctuation can count as a filler, and you want to watch how you use it to avoid unnecessary fillers.
Sometimes, interjections express necessary emotion that would otherwise sound awkward. I’ll use the same example:
“I love you,” she screamed.
It’s not wrong and it’s not really awkward, but sometimes the interjection is appropriate to avoid forcing the reader to change the sound they heard in their head.
The key is finding where this form of punctuation is unnecessary. It’s easier the more you do it, but start by looking at every exclamation point in your writing.
Why is it there?
What happens when you take it away?
Can you add something to show the interjection better and show it more visually?
This is almost always the case, but let’s start with the sentence I used in the beginning.
Carla ran toward the open door, thrusting herself forward and barely catching the knob before it slammed shut!
We don’t need that exclamation point. Let’s fix that. Remember that this isn’t dialogue, but the same rules apply. Actually, I recommended not using exclamation points, at all. Not in narrative. Right?
Carla ran toward the open door, thrusting herself forward and barely catching the knob before it slammed shut.
This didn’t hurt the sentence at all. If you think it did, read it again. If you still think it hurt it, take a step back and think about your possible obsession with exclamation marks. It’s only one sentence so the point may not be as clear because you’re not “in the moment.” But it doesn’t hurt it. I promise. Remember that you’re a writer. Punctuation doesn’t make you a better one. Words do.
What about onomatopoeia?
You know, the word few people can spell. This word is so fun. In children’s books, this is used to describe what the wheels on a car do and what a girl’s scream sounds like. Hopefully, you know this, so your readers will, too. I honestly have little to say about onomatopoeia because I am a strong believer that it is never necessary in fiction for readers who are reading middle grade and higher. It’s one thing to say a man cackled maniacally and another to say:
This is perfect for a text message because “Lol” doesn’t cut it anymore. Like the exclamation mark, onomatopoeia in your writing can count as a filler, which is simply unnecessary additions to your writing. Punctuation, word choice, dialect, and even the font all act as a type of filler. In books, treat your readers like you would treat your date. They aren’t dumb, and they deserve respect.
Give it to them, please.
Write for yourself, but edit for your reader.
P.S. Yes, I know I use exclamation marks in my blog posts, but I don’t have the option of saying, “I typed with a giddy smile.” Actually, I do have that option but that would be weird. On top of that, it’s a blog post. I’ll do what I want! Muahahaha!
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