Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 10 December 2012

A Note on Punctuation

I had a fascinating conversation with the husband yesterday.

As is our usual routine, he finished a story, and I edited it for him before he sent it off to his publisher. It’s how we rock. Nothing leaves his office until it has passed over my desk. It was ever thus.

The husband writes pretty cleanly, but everyone needs an editor, and, as writers, we all have foibles and bad habits that need ironing out. I track changes for the husband, and he makes the final choices.

Yesterday’s story, which I thought particularly good, threw up some interesting questions, though, and a long, involved conversation ensued.

I’m a stickler for grammar. I spit in the face of style. Style is crap if it means that grammar is incorrect. I say that if, as a writer, you make better grammar choices, the thing can be stylish and grammatically correct. Right? Right!

What transpired, though, was that the husband and I, both very visually stimulated people, also both like the page to look right, and to that end we both make grammar choices according to the way punctuation marks affect the appearance of the page.

Here’s one simple example.

I do not use the en-rule. I dislike it, because it puts too much space around a clause. Think about it. If you put two spaces and the widest piece of punctuation known to man on either side of a clause you will draw a huge amount of attention to it, and, if you do that, it’d better be damned important. Most clauses simply aren’t going to carry sufficient weight to be worth that kind of visual isolation on the page, so don’t give it to them. That’s my argument, and, in most instances, commas will do very nicely. Of course, parentheses might also be appropriate. You might be thinking that parentheses are pretty big bits of punctuation, too, and I wouldn’t disagree with that for a moment, but at least they fit snuggly up against the letters next to them, at least there isn’t all that white space on the page to contend with.

For what it's worth, the husband likes the way the en-rule looks on the page, mostly because he associates it fondly with writers like Samuel Richardson.

There are fourteen punctuation marks on the average keyboard, but I know that most of us don’t know how to correctly use more than a few of them. Can I suggest that we stick to those few and leave the rest to the experts, and, if in doubt, a sentence generally requires a subject and a verb to qualify as... you know... an actual, bona fide sentence.


  1. I'm not looking forward to all the red ink I incur with my noobishness ... still, bring on the sweet learning curve of literary lurve!

  2. I enjoyed your post. Personally, I am a great fan of the semi colon and the dash. Especially the dash. Like you, how a page looks is important to me.