The Birdwatcher saw a couple of birds he didn’t expect, as well as one genuine rarity. And I spent a couple of hours communing with a Little Owl. It sat so still I worried that it was a stuffed toy. The Amiable Birdwatcher agreed that it might be a decoy to attract owls to that quarry as a des res, so took us back to check. And then, Sleepy Sam came out of his stupor to pursue a fly up one level on the rock face. So after that, I stayed and watched him doze.
Punctuation – the Reckless Volunteer
The peace and quiet was very necessary. This last week I have been wrestling with new and exciting challenges. For I am to deliver an online course on punctuation next month and I have never done such a thing before. The online course, I mean.
Punctuation I had covered – or thought I did, anyway.
The truth is that I offered to produce this course this time last year, when the Romantic Novelists’ Association started a new online learning programme. I knew from experience that many manuscripts which go through the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme show punctuation issues.
Some years ago Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a guide to punctuation, called Getting the Point. It’s now out of print, but there are sometimes second hand copies available. And when I checked on Amazon, I was quite tearful at the lovely reviews. THANK you, dear Readers.
We put a lot of work into researching it. And anyway, I love the stuff. So I was pretty certain I could help.
Punctuation – The Online Course Video
I had reckoned without Technical Issues. This week I have been struggling with trying to video myself. OK, half the problem is vanity. But not all. “Be natural,” said my guru, the wonderful Janet Gover.
Um. My mentor is an on-camera professional. Probably also a natural. So far, me being natural has resulted in:
- Horrified Woman in Mirror, discovering her nose is peeling after too much sun, never started speaking
- Rabbit in the Headlights, forgot what I was going to say
- Nervous Spokesperson, sonorously reading from prepared brief, apparently punctuated at random. Also basso profundo. AAARGH
- Manic Stand-up Comedian, gabbling at 200 words a minute. Danny Kaye could have taken my correspondence course.
Back to the drawing board, you think? Yup. Me, too.
Punctuation – The Online Course Challenge
Now this is where I thought I had it sewn up and have found that I hadn’t. Our book is basic yet reasonably comprehensive. But it’s not the sort of thing you read from cover to cover. You look up what you want.
My problem is the course attendees are taking time out of busy lives to explore what they need to know. But I don’t know which bit that is. And they almost certainly won’t all have the same problem. If I stay basic are they going to feel irritated and patronised?
One of the lovely Amazon reviewers said of our book, “The authors have managed to produce an interesting book about a topic which many people would consider boring.”
A topic which many people would consider boring. AAARGH.
Punctuation, the Writer’s Water Carrier, the Reader’s Friend
The stuff that was coming from Athens and elsewhere came on scrolls in continuous lettering. So the very first bit of punctuation was a letter-sized space between one word and the next. Phew! And Aristophanes did it to help the reader.
My course is subtitled “Punctuating your work for clarity and expressiveness.” The basic aim is to help your reader to read in a continuous flow, without stumbling over something she doesn’t understand or that sounds wrong.
She puts her trust in you, opens the book and sets off on her journey.
Punctuation can also help the writer vary the pace, heighten drama, change mood, show who dominates a conversation and when someone is taking the piss.
And a whole lot more, if you want it to. It can even provide the key clue in a murder mystery.
Some years ago I explained how I came to read the Jack Reacher novels and why I was hooked from Book 1. The whole blog is here. But the following is the key point for the purposes of this blog.
Almost at the end, there’s a game changer. The Chief Detective needs evidence but he thinks it was destroyed in a fire in a garage belonging to a guy called Stoller.
Our hero knows otherwise:
“It wasn’t written like that,” I said. “The apostrophe came after the final letter. It meant the garage belonging to the Stollers. The plural possessive. The garage belonging to two people called Stoller. And there weren’t two people called Stoller living at that house by the golf course. Judy and Sherman weren’t married. The only place we’re going to find two people called Stoller is the little old house where Sherman’s parents live. And they’ve got a garage.”
Finlay drove on in silence. Trawled back to his grade-school grammar.
“You think he stashed a box with his folks?”
“It’s logical,” I said.
And they roll on to an absolutely cracking climax. Oh, that apostrophe! Happy Sigh!
If you think that this might be something you would like to join, you would be very welcome. You don’t have to be a member of the RNA to join nor a writer to get some benefit out it.