Please welcome our newest editor and blogger, Kathryn Craft.
It’s just a tiny dot, but it contains great power. Even as words add up to thoughts and thoughts layer with images that eventually result in complex notions capable of changing the world, one adding to the next and to the next within an extended sentence whose natural rhythms flow, then ebb, then surge in a manner seemingly dictated by the moon, it can dam. It can introduce staccato beats. Ramp up tension. Create edginess. Excite. It can introduce a contemplative space where ideas can be absorbed. It can cast a spotlight on the word just before it when the weapon of word order is carefully wielded.
Calling it the “stop sign of the punctuation world,” literary agent and author Noah Lukeman devotes his entire opening chapter—22 pages!--to the period in his book A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation. Lukeman underscores the period’s importance by listing the dangers of overuse (insufficient communication; choppiness) and underuse (overwhelming the reader in an attempt to sound erudite). A considered approach is at the very heart of confident, clear writing.
Consider the period a stylistic element, but never use it for style alone: like all punctuation, its use should serve meaning.
Look at the excitement Randall Brown generates in this ad copy for a talk he gave. His fanciful use of periods underscores his topic, flash fiction:
Flash is for the fearless. No wishy-washiness here. This talk discusses the essentials of writing flash fiction: ideas, narrative structures, voice, image patterns, twists, revision, and submission strategies. Hear that POP! That's the sizzle of your prose, your veins like wires. That's the world where every word matters, the world of infinite yearning, where everything and everyone—writers, texts, characters, readers—lose their quiet everyday world and enter a state of intense arousal and desire. Oh Baby. Micro. Sudden. Flash. Fiction. Awww!
In fiction, period use can effectively define character voice. Look at this early paragraph from Patricia Wood’s novel, Lottery. Its punctuation establishes the parameters that define protagonist Perry L. Crandall's worldview, reinforced throughout the novel with the creative use of the period:
I am thirty-two years old and I am not retarded. You have to have an IQ number less than 75 to be retarded. I read that in Reader's Digest. I am not. Mine is 76.
In this excerpt from The Land of Women, novelist Regina McBride opens a story that will span an ocean. Note the rich imagery and sentences that swell with meaning before spending themselves:
When she closes her eyes, Fiona recalls the pale smells of her mother's skin and hair; a smell like new muslin washed in salt water and left to dry in the wind. She tries to remember her mother's voice, and the pitch and treble of it passes through her, the rhythm of it so clear that for the shock of a moment they are returned to one another in the way they had been when she was small, connected by frail strings.
The period. May you never think of it as a simple sentence-ender again.
Kathryn Craft is a free-lance editor at Writing-Partner.com, a manuscript evaluation, line editing, and writer support service. For 19 years she wrote dance criticism and arts features for The Morning Call in Allentown, PA, and for publications of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. She now writes memoir essays and women's fiction.