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The Art of (Modern, Powerful) Punctuation & Grammar

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Some people think of punctuation and grammar (PaG) as rules to follow – and as long as the rules are followed, everything is okay.

ugh. That's completely wrong.

PaG is the tools of writing. You use it to add life to your writing. It's the bones your ideas hang on. You use PaG to make your writing smooth and easy to correctly understand.

Like, when to use fragments, repetition, dashes, and semicolons . . . the intracacies of the word and . . . the hidden side of the comma . . . and on and on.

This book is written by an author, to help authors write better. It's about the new PaG, breaking the rules, and issues normally not considered in conventional PaG.


Shannon opened the diary and said, "Oh my God."

Unless Shannon is heavily sedated, this sentence is missing something. Life, I would say. To be more scholarly: The PaG (punctuation and grammar) does not support what the writer was trying to convey. With italics:

Shannon opened the diary and said, "Oh my God."

Much better. When you write a grammatically correct sentence, you are not done. You always have choices, and if you want to write well, you should know those choices. Most authors DO NOT know all of their choices.

Then you have to choose wisely. That's your job, but I want to help. This book is NOT about conventionally correct PaG -- it is about using PaG powerfully and effectively, to make your writing great.

Let me remove the dialogue tag and add an exclamation mark:

Shannon opened the diary. "Oh my God!"

Now I'm happy.

Did I mention that you have more choices than you realize? This is from Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes:

Oh . . . my . . . God!

That's the whole paragraph. I love how he italicized only one word. King is a brilliant technician and we should learn from him. This is from my book Emotions Girl.

"OH! MY! GOD! She's bleeding. She's bleeding on her desk. Get me out of here."

So that's three very different ways of writing Oh my God, and they all mean different things. This is Stephen King again (from Misery):


You can be like Stephen King and use PaG well. I hope you do that. I also hope you enjoy that. (I do.) And it will make you a better writer.

Some issues are less dramatic. Like whether or not this sentence keeps its comma:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream, and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

Take the comma out? Leave it in? Frankly, you don't give a damn?

Hemingway cared. This sentence – without the comma – is the first line from The Old Man and the Sea. With the comma, this sentence is grammatically correct.

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Table of Contents

Section I: Using PaG to Add Life
1. The Art of Fragments
       Interlude: How to Read this Book
2. Dashes, Ellipses, & Other Pauses
       Interlude: Pitch
3. Italics and All-Caps (Adding Emotion)
       Basic Principle: How Much is Too Much?
4. Repetition
5. Disfluencies
       Interlude: Mimicking Thinking
6. Exclamations
       Underlying Principle: Excitement and Drama without Quality
7. More New PaG
       Side Issue: Poetry

Section II: Words

8. Using Adverbs Successfully
9. Active Versus Passive Verbs (& Grammatical Simplicity)
10. Conjunctions
11. That (Which, This, Etc.)

Section III: Punctuation (Dem Dry Bones)
12. Sentences
13. Paragraphs
14a. Combining Two Sentences (Grammatically)
       Interlude: A Matter of Style
14b. Combining Two Sentences (Ungrammatically)
14c. More Combining
       Interlude: The Pitch of Punctuation Marks
15. Adding Extra Information (Parentheses, the Double Comma, and the Double Dash)
16. Lists
       Basic Issue: Forming the Rules of Grammar

Section IV: The Lowly Comma, Building Block of the Universe
17. Split-Personality
18. Comma Confusion
19. Resolutions to the Great Comma Problem Interlude: Rules, Conventions, Tactics, and Style
20. Modifiers
21. Changing Grammar to Fit the Scene


Appendix 1: Rarer Effects
Appendix 2: Copy-Editing Issues
Appendix 3: How Do We Know Pitch?
Appendix 4: Wizards