I’ve always been a rather conversational writer. I’m not sure if it comes from spending most of my life onstage or if I just have some innate preference for easy-to-digest text, but I want everything I write to sound natural when spoken aloud.
As a reader, I also find myself drawn to books that have a natural rhythm to their words. That’s not to say that I hate flowery language or that all vocabulary needs to be kept simple. I love a deep dive into the description of a first kiss or a sunset.
I do, however, have one pet peeve. I can’t stand it when authors just start throwing in fancy punctuation to avoid having to write anything that mirrors human speech.
Please don’t get me wrong. There are times when some good ellipses add to the mood. (I’m a huge fan of drama dots. I love the antici…pation.)
An em-dash can also be a major lifesaver for mid-dialogue action.
But there is such a thing as taking fancy punctuation too far.
I recently read a book that is such a perfect example of why it drives me crazy. I won’t name the book because we don’t need that sort of negativity, but I had only picked it up because there had been a scandal in which the author was wrongfully accused of being shady. I wanted to support a fellow writer.
I should have read the first page before purchasing.
When I finally sat down to enjoy the book, I found a colon, a semi-colon, three em-dashes, and an ellipsis all on the first page.
Why would you dump all that punctuation onto page one of a book? Why can’t you just tell me a story instead of going for literary acrobatics?
I stared at that first page, just blinking at all the dots and dashes, wondering if I should just tuck the book under the couch and pretend I hadn’t bought it. If that’s how you introduce me to the action of a story, how bad is it going to get when we follow the characters to a market?
I did rally and read the book. The plot line was great, but the voice of the text remained stilted throughout.
On the plus side, I was reminded of a very important lesson. Always read the first page of a book before committing. Radio interviews with the author don’t tell you how much punctuation soup you’ll be asked to swallow to get through the text.