by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©2004 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
Warning! Danger! Grammar alert!
I'm about to talk about punctuation. Wake up, you there with the mouse in your hand! Come on, it won't be as bad as you think. No lectures, just one single question and a magic trick.
Here's the question: How would you punctuate the following sentence?
A woman without her man would be nothing.
If you punctuated it like so --
A woman, without her man, would be nothing.
-- the magic goes round and round and says: You're a guy. But had you punctuated it this way --
A woman: without her, man would be nothing.
-- Jeffmar the Magnificent would have said you were female. If this doesn't make sense, try saying it out loud. That should help.
The point is that small changes in punctuation can make a big difference in meaning. Admittedly, punctuation doesn't make this much difference all the time, but as the above sentence shows, it can. Have you ever been reading a story and stopped to say, "Huh?" because something just didn't make sense? The bottom line is that correct punctuation can make a difference in the enjoyment of the reader... and that should be important to any of us who write.
It should be, but in some cases it isn't, which is a shame. On one of the mailing lists I belong to there is a writer who will remain nameless; I always, but always, delete his stories on sight without reading them. The gentleman in question is prolific, and his work may actually have other literary virtues, but I'll never know because his problems with punctuation (and spelling, grammar, et cetera ad nauseum) are so consistent and all-pervasive that reading his stuff is a far more onerous chore than simply clicking the DELETE button. This person is aware that his sloppy writing habits can repulse some readers -- he has been the topic of discussion of at least two different threads that I can remember, one rather extensive -- but sadly, where his work is concerned he steadfastly insists that the readers can, to use a slang term, "love it or leave it".
Rather than list punctuation problems and give generic solutions for how to fix them that never really seem to apply when you're actually writing, I'll keep things short and just suggest the following:
Now, if I haven't scared anyone away, get out there and start writing!