Maybe you might remember how I said I knew grammar and punctuation to a reasonable extent?
Well I don’t. Not. At. All.
Let me clarify: I’ve known generally about grammar and punctuation, or thought I knew over the many years of technical writing and general shtuff. But! In the process of writing my novel, I’ve since discovered – especially in the case of commas, semicolons and dashes – that all of this time I’ve really had no idea.
To make things more complicated, in addition to this development, I’ve also discovered that when it comes to creative writing, it’s so wishy-washy from novel to novel it’s ridiculous. Cormac McCarthy pretty much uses only commas and periods and even then, his use is sporadic. I’ll have to re-read his books again as it’s so hard to have something that sounds nice to me and strings sentences together without commas or dashes or semi-colons. Then you have Writers that use dashes and semi-colons everywhere and maybe that’s “proper,” but it reads oddly sometimes and clutters the page, and even those writers are inconsistent a lot of the time so it is hard to gauge where semi-colons can be used or should be used and not used. Argh!
For example (as I’ve recently learned) – a semi-colon is used to link two related clauses or sentences together, and is also used to separate items in a list of things or conditions.
But a dash or “-“ or “—“ is also used to join two related sentences together, but also functions similar to opening and closing brackets or as if you are making an aside.
Commas are supposed to link two unrelated sentences together – or rather separate clauses but keep the sentence flowing. BUT – typically, commas can be used as “breathing” commas to pace your work and therefor also kind of function like semi-colons and dashes. Confusing? Yes!
Then you have periods. Which are like commas in that they separate clauses, but with more of a separation than a comma. Yet in a lot of writing including my own, we use periods (full stops) as commas of sorts and sometimes even as semi-colons. And the use of the period this way makes sense once you get a feel for the writers style, but is not proper and if you try and use it yourself without being consistent it can sometimes throw you off (I think I do this btw, haha.)
I pretty much read all of my work aloud, every word and sentence, and choose the punctuation and grammar to suit what sounds and reads easiest. I have noticed however that the more I learn, the more I am using – or rather – changing how I write; which I acknowledge means it may be a little inconsistent. So please let me know if you are having any problems. Hopefully by the time I’m doing the second draft, I’ll be able to iron it out a bit.
On a different note, something I also wanted to write about is how hard creative writing is, especially science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction etc.
If you ever see an interview or hear about a writer complaining or waxing lyrical on how hard writing is or about how it is the hardest thing they’ve ever done in their entire life, maybe cut them a little slack or give them a gum or something… a pat on the back and a “there, there,” maybe.
As writers, we have to literally imagine a person into being (sometimes many) to the extent that we know them almost instinctively. We have to know who their parents are, where they grew up, what they sound like, what they dream of. What they might say if you asked them a question. What they might be thinking whilst you’re asking them that question and then – whilst and in-between them answering you – what you might be thinking about them or about larger ideas or whatever… Sure we project a lot of ourselves on to our characters. After all, they do come from our minds. But to hold all of that in your head and recollect it on demand / to try and imagine what they might be thinking / feeling at any given moment and what they might do next whilst also ensuring they are a unique snowflake of an individual and act true to themselves – well it’s bloody hard!
If you’re a bit self-conscious or neurotic like me, and have ever had an argument where you are trying to not only get your point across, but understand the other person whilst also think of the perfect thing to say and then in your mind anticipate what they might say in return to the idea in your head before you’ve said it… that’s kind of what we do when writing dialogue. We willingly go through this! Haha
But I have to say writing is exciting and fun and exhilarating and one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life.
Add to the above difficulties: World building.
For me as an example: Part of my novel is set in a dystopian Russia which I envisage is being run as a communalist state / lots of little soviets / communities running themselves. Trying to work out how these soviets might actually function without government or some feudal benefactor or tyrant and without a currency or massive wealth differential (it’s the end of the world, no one – here at least – is concerned about wealth), is crazy hard to research and imagine. Add to that having your characters interact / go through this world.
When I’m writing, I often have to work this out before my character can progress which stalls things, as problems could undermine the entire story (I.e. my communalist soviets get quarterly petrol rations – but, you say, “where do the petrol come from? Who refines the crude oil? If they get rations, what’s stopping the people from saving a surplus and driving across the country thus undermining a primary conceit of one of the main characters stories?”) <— see that? That’s apparently a no no. Too much punctuation.
And all of this thought and research and planning often eventuates in maybe a few lines of your actual writing because #showdonttell.
See? It’s bloody hard work this stuff!
I’ve got to give it to the sci-fi / fantasy authors out there. How the hell do you create / learn all of that stuff and then hold it in your head to not only reference in your narrative but also inspire and shape your narrative, with it being internally consistent and without major plot holes?
It’s a long and very very hard process.
So the next person who whinges about George RR Martin’s Winds of Winter or A Song of Spring being delayed (I’ll probably be one of them) gets a right old crook-eyed stare! Give the guy a break!
That’s it for now. Rock on!
If you have any ideas on how to run a communalist economy without centralised power, wealth, or money – and not only in small villages but in former metropolises (such as St Petersburg / Moscow), please let me know! Haha
In spite of my punctuation and grammar naivety, I hope my blog (and to a greater extent my novel) is reasonably easy to read! If you hit any major snags please tell me as I’ll note it down. 😀
3 thoughts on “Grammar. Punctuation. Shtuff.”
Loved this post! Yes, grammar etc is a tricky minefield, and is difficult to keep consistent over the course of the months (or sometimes years) that it takes to write the book.
Ditto on the world-building. Not only do you have a future world, in Russia, but you have to figure out how the characters interact in a hypothetical scenario that has never existed…until you thought of it!
Love the book so far. Keep at the problem and you may wake up in the middle of the night with the solution.
I find myself sometimes using too many semicolons that I’m telling myself to Cormac McCarthy the crap out of it on the rewrite, haha!
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Yep – love Cormac McCarthy, he’s a great comparison to your work! Everything can be fixed in the rewrite, when you’ll be able to edit close together in time. It gets easier.