Punctuate for Emphasis
by Peggy Urry
If any of you have been around teenagers for any length of time, you know all about emphasis: thinly disguised as drama.
In writing we can use punctuation to emphasize. As young writers, we may become enthusiastic about the mighty exclamation mark and the attention it draws to our point. However, we learn that the exclamation is best used sparingly. But having a few good punctuation marks in your arsenal broadens your ability to add emphasis without an exclamation.
Let's take periods, dashes, ellipses, and colons and look at how they enable us to add emphasis to our writing.
The period (British call it a full stop) is sometimes overlooked, but consider how a fragment with a period adds emphasis: "You need to quit procrastinating, so sit down and write your first draft. Now." Or create a rhythm in a series of short sentences: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."1
Wilbers suggests the following:
Use dashes to mark abrupt changes in thought or the flow of a sentence.
Use ellipses not only to mark text omitted in a direct quote, but also to indicate a trailing off of thought or a troubled pause.
Use a colon to introduce something that follows (as I have done with this list).
Here are some examples from The Archer's Hollow:
"Trolls. Very. Nasty. Trolls," he said fiercely.
They would then be the ones to look down their noses with disdain at the previous court and its servants--if any were left.
"When they could catch me...but they rarely did."
Replace a punctuation mark in the following sentences with a period, a dash, and a colon, but not in that order.
a. This is the difference between scenery and place. Scenery is something you have merely looked at; place is something you have experienced.
b. Grammar is a piano I play by ear, and all I know about grammar is its power.
c. My thoughts are like waffles. The first few don't look so good.2
1 Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 108
2 Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 110-111
TAMARA: This is a good breakdown of when to use periods, dashes, ellipses, etc. I am wondering though, Peggy, your example of a fragment with a period seems to be a pointed directive for me! Yes, I do need to quit procrastinating and write my rough draft. Now.
VALERIE: Commas weren't mentioned which scares me a little. Does that mean I have to discuss them in next week's lesson?
:(! Does the exclamation point apply here? Yes. It. Does.
*pauses to go look*
Whew. The next lesson is on dashes. That's a good one for me because I tend to go a little dash-happy when I write.