When I first began copy editing, I did not truly understand style, and probably, I am still growing in my comprehension of it. But because grammar, punctuation, and style can be stumbling blocks to writing fear free, I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far.
A writer’s first goal should be communication. Not only are we trying to write something beautiful and worthy, but we are trying to convey this beauty and worthiness to others. Writing is communication. This is where the grammar and punctuation rules we learned in school come in handy. They give us the foundation of communication with those around us. They make it easier to communicate our message with our readers.
Many writers try to use punctuation as style. And before I get rotten fruit thrown at me, yes, there is some leeway in grammar that does allow writers to make certain choices that help to define their writing. But if those choices sacrifice clarity and communication, then have you really achieved your goal? If your punctuation makes readers put the book down in disgust, has your message been heard? Have you communicated anything at all other than frustration and confusion?
The most common offender I’ve seen as an editor is the ellipse. People try to use it for everything under the sun. The ellipse is meant to show that some text has been omitted, and it is most commonly found in direct quotations to indicate that very thing. It can also be used in dialogue to show that someone has expressed an incomplete thought. And occasionally, it can be used to indicate a pause. This last part is where people go too far. They use the ellipse in place of periods, commas, and semi-colons, which were all designed to indicate pauses as well.
Overuse of the ellipse is annoying, even to people who aren’t grammar nerds like me.
Have you ever heard a review that praised a writer’s artistic use of the ellipse? I haven’t. But I have read reviews in which someone said, “The grammar was horrible,” “The book needed to be proofread,” or “Someone needs to edit out all those ellipses.”
So here is my theory: Truly artistic and correct use of punctuation and grammar allows the words to come alive. Readers can hear the text in their head. They can taste it on their lips. They can feel it in their hearts. If readers continually encounter incorrect grammar or unnecessary use of punctuation, it will actually prevent them from ever truly experiencing a writer’s style, which lives in the way you put words together to form meaning. So don’t let something as surface and insignificant as a mark of punctuation stop you from communicating with your readers.