Thursday, October 8, 2009

Creative. Period.

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, 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.

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  1. Very good examples. You also plant the idea that characters can be defined by the way they speak or think, and they way they speak or think can be defined by the period. So tiny and yet so powerful.

    Straight From Hel

  2. Nice "points" Kathryn. This is a terrific essay and not only gives me some good ideas. It also gives me a reference and some good examples. Thanks for sharing your passion and expertise about these tiny marks. Now if only I could figure out the semi-colon I'd be set:)

    Memory Writers Network

  3. "Every word matters." So does the silence between them. Thanks again for another excellent article.

  4. Then again, remember that archy the cockroach composed his works without using punctuation marks of any kind.

    boss i am disappointed in
    some of your readers they
    are always asking how does
    archy work the shift so as to get a
    new line or how does archy do
    this or that they
    are always interested in technical
    details when the main question is
    whether the stuff is
    literature or not

  5. Excellent!

    Thanks for sharing :)

  6. This quote from William Zinsser in On Writing Well made me laugh.

    "There's not much to be said about the period except that most writers don't reach it soon enough."

  7. Welcome to the group, Kathryn, and what a great addition you are. This is a wonderful post and made me remember why I really like to read well-crafted writing. I'd forgotten how important punctuation can be.

  8. Must. Edit. This. Out.

    LOL ~ I can't stand this latest fad, especially in historical novels, where a modern convention like this is simply out-of-place for the genre. May as well have your protag pull out a can of Coca-Cola and pop the lid. Pulls me straight out of the story. Bleh.


  9. LOL, love the quote from Zissner about writers not knowing how to get to a period. Thanks, Jim. I'll have to remember that the next time I am editing and find that the author goes on and on and on and on....

  10. You always give such good examples. Thanks.

  11. Welcome Kathryn :-)

    Terminology is interesting too. In Aus and the UK we call the period a "full stop". Sort of gives a different meaning to "period", don't you think?

  12. Only a writer could get so excited about a little dot..........

  13. Maybe next post you can write about ellipses... :-)

  14. Very good points, Katherine, thanks for sharing...

  15. To the point. Gotta love it! Thanks for the insights and reminders.

  16. Thanks, Kathryn. I've 'bookmarked' the site.

  17. Excellent writing, Kathyrn. Thanks for sharing with us.


  18. Kathryn, Thanks for such a thoughtful essay - and for telling us about this blog.


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