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Passionate writer and avid reader. I am writing my first Young Adult novel and working to get it published.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Punctuation: When is it okay to break the rules?

I mentioned in a past post about how reading is a learning tool for me. There has been something that has been bothering me, so I thought I would discuss it with you today. Is there a right or wrong writing style?

I am driving myself crazy revising my first draft. I want the punctuation to be perfect, but is there such a thing as perfect punctuation?

For example, I feel the use of fragments is very gray. I was told never start a sentence with and, so, or but. I was also told always write a proper sentence; no fragments allowed. I took a class where the professor threw all those strict rules out the window. He said fragments can be written as a form of style. And it was okay to start a sentence like this. It’s more of a personal choice. Kaye Dacus, romance writer, wrote a great blog about when you should or shouldn’t use fragments. You can read it here.

I think it depends on the meaning of your sentence. What are you trying to convey to your reader? Does your punctuation truly made sense or do you think it just looks good that way. You can call me a nerd, but I love reading grammar books that show you how punctuation can change the entire meaning of your sentence. A really good book is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

If you think punctuation doesn’t matter, well look at this sentence and tell me if you can detect the difference in the meaning:
A woman without her man is nothing.
A woman: without her man is nothing.

This example came from Eats, Shoots & Leaves. There are all kinds of examples like this in that book. I recommend you pick it up if you have not read it yet. But to get back on target, I don’t believe there is any one right way to use punctuation in your writing. As long as you can spread your message the way you intend then I say break all the punctuation rules you want. It worked for Emily Dickinson —with the long breaks at the end—of her poems.