You may think punctuation is a boring topic, but I beg to differ. It’s more than a tedious lecture in English class. Victor Borge did an extremely funny bit about punctuation where each mark had its own particular noise. There are several books that tackle the topic of punctuation using humor, such as Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and Lapsing Into a Comma by Bill Walsh. However you approach punctuation, you need it to write your novel.
I often come across manuscripts where punctuation is an afterthought. Periods are added outside quotation marks or left off altogether. Commas are sprinkled liberally wherever they may fall, and question marks and exclamation points seem to make their appearances on a whim. Apostrophes seem to either be nonexistent or used every time an s appears at the end of a word.
If words are the meat and potatoes of writing, punctuation is the seasoning. It not only brings the meal together, it brings out the flavor.
If you didn’t pay attention in English class, there are lots of books, like the ones I mentioned earlier, that can help. These are some of the tools of your trade. Learn to use them. Would you go see your local symphony if the violinists didn’t know how to use their bows? Of course not! Do you expect your mechanic to know how to use a wrench? Of course you do! As a writer, you need to know how these things work. If you can’t tell a question from a statement, you need to review your basics, including punctuation.
As I wrote last week, you need to learn your craft. Punctuation is part of this. If you wanted to learn to paint with oils, you would learn how to mix colors, use your brush effectively, how to paint light and shadow, how to paint forms and movement. You wouldn’t expect to just dab your fingers into the paint and have done. You would have to learn the basics before you could apply the artistry. The same holds true with writing. Master the basics and then you can soar. Learn where the dots, dashes, and squiggles go. They direct your reader and help interpret your meaning.
“Hi, Brenda.” This statement is a lot different than “Hi, Brenda!” The whole meaning changes. One goes from the mundane and expected to excitement. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, practice changing the punctuation in a sentence and read it out loud. See how it changes your inflection? If you’re already dreading homework, you’re not cut out to be a writer, because that’s what writing is… perpetual homework you’re giving yourself. So what are you waiting for? Get to work.