March 12, 2014

The Comma, the Pause

Dear M,

A long time ago - in fact I think it could have been the turning point in my writerly career - I shared one of my short stories with a friend. He must have realised that I am handing over something very precious that he had to handle with care and eventually return.

He gave my story due respect. He was an avid reader, and I do not know what he actually thought of my story - my encounters with critics had not yet begun. He told me what he liked about the story. He delicately kept from me his negative thoughts, if he had any. It must have come as a surprise to him that I wrote stories, perhaps that surprise alone made up for the drawbacks of my writing.

Anyway, none of that is important here. Something he said to me drew my attention. He said I gave the right kind of attention to the pauses in the story - that my punctuations, especially my commas, were well-placed. Now, that is the last comment I would have expected him to make. Yes, he did speak about the language I used, the plot and other things, but today this is the only thing I remember from our conversation.

Normally no one pays a lot of attention to the punctuation while reading, except a person who knows what he is talking about. A person with a keen eye. A person who knows writing. Most importantly, a person who knows reading.

We read a book in our mind, true, but we're actually reading it out aloud. Without the pauses, the commas, the semi-colons, the exclamations, the hyphens, the full-stops, we do not comprehend the text the way we should. One could write very well without many of those, there are writers who dislike the semi-colon. But each of these serve a purpose to the reader. They could be annoying when overused, but most often they give the right feel to the reader.

I have heard that reading our story out loud is very useful in fixing (polishing) the style. I am sure when we read aloud, we pause at the right places. These pauses and exclamations could get converted into punctuations which will help the reader read it exactly the way you want it to be read.


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