I’ve been working my way through a Lawrence Block collection (The Liar’s Bible, another compilation of his Writer’s Digest pieces from the 80s. “Hands Off!” is the specific piece, if you are inclined to read the whole piece.), and there was something that struck me.
… I know where I want a comma and where I don’t. I use punctuation for effect, not in obedience to some rule book or style sheet. I want a sentence to fall upon a reader’s inner ear in a particular way, and that’s why I punctuate a sentence as I do.
In the article, he’s talking about copyediting, and goes on to mention some other experiences of sentences being rephrased or rewritten entirely by some creative editors, but it’s the puctuation item that really spiked the meter for me.
I first heard the idea from Orson Scott Card a couple of years ago which, at the time, was a liberating revelation for me. Seeing it again from Block gives me the inclination to point and shout, “Yes, this!” Reading those lines, I reflected on a lot of the commentary/notes I’ve been making over the past six months on projects I’ve been given to workshop.
“Consider repunctuating for flow,” was one of the oft repeated comments I’ve been making, and just today I had an epiphany, an example to keep in mind. (It’s possible I heard this before,and just remembered it, but I digress.) Storytelling was originally an oral tradition. Punctuation developed as a means for facilitating the transition of the spoken word to the written. If you think about the story/novel/project that you are writing as something to be experienced aurally (to drop a Wendig, aka: “read your shit out loud”), consider how you would naturally pause or place emphasis. Think of your work as a performance medium, and punctuate based on what you hear – not (necessarily) based on what a formal style guide might dictate.