Steering the Craft: Session 2

Punctuation is sooooo dry! **whine**

It is also vital if the writer is communicating from a distance with the reader. We can hear what the writer intends when an author reads her own work. We hear with our ears. The magic of punctuation is that it allows us listen to an author with our EYES. Through these marks we hear the pauses, sighs, loudness, tempo of the text. If we as writers consider how we as readers feel when delving into the written word, punctuation comes alive.

As Ms. LeGuin says in Chapter 2 “Writing a sentence that expresses what you want to say isn’t any easier than plumbing or fiddling. It takes craft.” Every craft has a tool box. Within any craft there are opinions on the technique or use of the tools in the box. Some skilled people are dogmatic in the use of tools: there is only one proper way to use a tool. Ms. LeGuin discusses at length “grammar bullies.” We’ve all encountered them. Perhaps, occassionally, we’ve been one. This second session is a meditation on the line between a tool’s purpose and its use. Anyone expecting to effectively use a tool must understand its purpose. The deeper your understanding, the more freedom you have when using the tool. Which leads me to the idea I will carry away from this chapter:

And that’s the important thing for a writer: to know what you’re doing with your language and why. This involves knowing usage and punctuation well enough to use them skillfully, not as rules that impede you but as tools that serve you.

EXERCISE: Write a paragraph to a page (150-350 words) of narrative with no punctuation (and no other paragraphs or other breaking devices). This exercise is a pure consciousness-raiser. Learn about the value of punctuation by NOT being allowed to use it.

FOLLOW UP: Be prepared to let someone else at the Feb 21st meeting read your work aloud. If you like, immediately after you write your piece record yourself reading it. Bring the recording along to play for the group. Let’s hear the difference!

EXERCISE: Take a paragraph or page by any other writer (famous or not). Remove all the punctuation. Try adding the punctuation back as many different ways that you can think of. Read the various results out loud.

The source for this post is Chapter 2 of Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. LeGuin (2015).

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