There are many who say proper punctuation doesn’t matter so much in novel writing. That almost carries the same feel as a golfer saying it doesn’t matter what club he uses, or an orchestra conductor saying it doesn’t matter what sequence of notes are played. Granted, these things aren’t apples to apples—a novel that doesn’t yet have its punctuation polished to perfection (say that ten times fast) can still sell. However, to disregard the importance of punctuation is taking it a bit too far. After all, along with grammar it can be an author’s tool for clarity, and ultimately clarity is what’s going to make a good story great.
Take the comma, for instance. It’s one of the most hated and disregarded punctuations among authors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard authors say, “Yeah I don’t worry about those.” Yet commas can be imperative to driving in the point you intend on making. The following examples are intended to be humorous, but they still speak volumes.
- Let’s eat, Billy! vs. Let’s eat Billy!
- Woman, without her man, is nothing vs. Woman, without her, man is nothing.
- It’s time for some Chinese, baby! vs. It’s time for some Chinese baby!
Check out Bill Cosby’s book, Come on People. And yes, that’s literally how it reads, which means something very different than what I bet he had meant. This problem could have been avoided had it been written as, “Come on, People.”
Here’s a great example from Lynne Truss’ book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves:
A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. “Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. “I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.” The waiter turns to the relevant entry, and sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
As you can see, commas aren’t to be altogether ignored. After all, they save lives.