Lack of Coordinates

Wanting to be different is a natural impulse, and so is the desire to break the mold. Over the centuries writing has advanced a long way, from the rollicking adventures of Tom Jones to the automatic writing of James Joyce, among other innovations. So an author cannot be blamed for striving to find a unique voice.

One of the more unfortunate modern experiments, however, has been the development of prose that lacks punctuation. While such a read is merely challenging in the hands of an experienced author, it can be highly annoying when coupled with undistinguished writing. Not using periods and commas in the right places sometimes is the only feature that makes the material different. Now we venture into the realm of really bad.

As an editor, I correct grammar as a matter of course. I correct typos even when I am engaged in a developmental edit, which is on a plane a level above grammar. So perhaps I am more offended than most when I encounter sloppy writing. I don’t see why I should pick up after an author like a child’s maid.

Willful arrogance is common among writers, and it can be good for a novel. Yet that attitude can go too far for the poor slob out in reader-land. If I have to struggle to read a book that isn’t first-rate, I am inclined to put it down in favor of a not-so-great novel that I can read effortlessly. I am hardly alone among my clan. Unless you are well-known, you will find to your cost that typos are one of the primary reasons a submission is rejected, by either an agent or an editor.

Besides the commercial aspect, it is worth considering the point of the exercise in the first place. You’re trying to involve the reader. If readers have to supply the  periods, they read more carefully. That attention is similar to the way a densely  written novel, say by Thomas Mann, has to be read. The extra diligence is rewarded by the depth of what is discovered.

This is where an author has to be realistic. Is your prose that special? Are the ideas you are espousing so unique? In other words, a lack of punctuation places a greater burden on you to be original in order to reward the greater effort by the reader. To help you make your decision, sit down and read a book you admire. Are you measuring up? If not, maybe you’d better make life easier on all of us.

Exercise: Grammar is not a straitjacket. It is a tool of the profession. You are trying to communicate to others, so you use a rulebook we all go by. Once you have mastered your craft, you can bend what is expected, play with the reader to make certain points stand out. But first sit down with your middle-school grammar book and make sure you know how to maneuver through your text.

“Art is messy, art is chaos—so you need a system.”  Andrew Stanton

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.