My favourite piece of punctuation is the semicolon. When it comes to proofreading, I notice that a lot of the time I am adding in semicolons to pieces of writing which otherwise would not use a single one. It makes me wonder if people actually know when to use the semicolon.
I think that it’s potentially my favourite piece of punctuation for the mere fact that I actually know how to use it, just like apostrophes are my least favourite, because they confuse the hell out of me! If you are great at using apostrophes, then I seriously applaud you.
For those of you who are confused about when the semicolon should make an appearance in your writing, I use it when it seems like it’s too short of a pause to use a full stop, but too long of a pause to use a comma. Another time to use it is when you’re writing a list of detailed items.
Milk, bread, cookies – this small list would use just commas.
creamy, white milk; seeded, cheesy, crusty bread; chocolate chip, salted caramel cookies – this list with detailed items uses semicolons because otherwise the large use of commas would make it confusing to look at and separate the items.
Which piece of punctuation is your favourite?
There are always story ideas around, you just have to be open to them. One really good way of finding a story is by taking a look at the people around you. Is there anyone who piques your interest? What are they wearing, doing, saying? What do they look like? Any features that stand out to you? Take notice of their body language. Then think about why they are where they are today, for example if they’re on a train where are they traveling from/to and why? (Obviously that part is purely your opinion.) You now have a character and maybe you even have a storyline too. They could be running away from home, or even an undercover MI5 agent.
Also make sure to listen to the conversations around you. You might hear something interesting. The last time I listened in to a conversation, it was between two old ladies and they were discussing how many bananas they’d bought and the amazing value of them. Obviously I didn’t manage a story out of that one!
I’ve never been too good at the people watching side of things, but my favourite way is observing any kind of commotion/altercation. Just the other night, my neighbour was having an argument outside with his girlfriend. I sat on the floor next to the door, listening through the letterbox. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to hear anything because my mum told me off for being ‘nosey.’ Yes, I guess I was being nosey, but it always feels better when there’s a reason for it. I was annoyed at her for the rest of the night for potentially preventing an amazing story idea.
Even if your mind feels blank now, just wait because your next idea may be just around the corner.
Full stops are pretty easy to work out, but commas? How often should you use them?
And the issue is that no one seems to agree. I used to put a comma before every connective word, before finding out that you don’t usually need to put a comma before the word ‘because.’ I’d been doing it for years.
And to make matters worse, I studied Creative Writing at Bath Spa for three years and was pulled up on my use of commas by THREE different lecturers:
-Lecturer #1 said I use way too many commas.
-Lecturer #2 said that I don’t use enough commas and that I should put a comma before the word ‘and’ which I hardly ever do (and still don’t.)
-Lecturer #3 was over the moon with my use of commas and awarded me with a first due to my perfect use of them and all other punctuation.
I don’t think I/we will ever know the perfect amount of commas to use in our writing, because there doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer. Even in books I read, I can see that some authors use lots, while others hardly use any at all.
So what happens if no matter what you do it’s never right?
I guess the only other option is to be consistent!
Personally when it comes to writing, I am a planner.
When I first started writing I didn’t plan at all. I would have an idea, work out a beginning and ending, who the main character was and then just go for it. Although this works for some people, it really didn’t work for me. I realised that my story was going nowhere. I was just writing and writing and writing, but there was no structure, no conflict… it was just very lacking in what a story needs. I had no idea where it was going to go next and pretty soon into it, I realised I had no clue how I was going to reach the ending. It wasn’t even the same story anymore.
I haven’t made this mistake since and it is due to my planning. I don’t go overboard with my planning, but I still need some form of it there to keep my story structured and going in the right direction. Now once an idea comes to mind and I’m ready to write, I plan my story out from beginning to end as a list of bullet points. I have also found an amazing trick I now use, which is that I keep a grid of characters and every time I write something in my story about a character (for example someone has a Ford car, or they used to have a pet dog named Milo,) I make a note of it under that character’s name. It just helps me out in the long run to look back at what I know about each character. I add to this as I write the story, because for me character attributes become more apparent the further into the story you get.
So, to plan or not to plan, which is right for you?
Since beginning university I have been looking at the work of other future writers in my course and comparing myself to their writing. Often it’s a – damn why didn’t I think of that? or, I wish I could write like that? But when you really think about… You shouldn’t ever compare yourself. Take a look at this poem for example:
As Soon as Fred Gets Out of Bed by Jack Prelutsky
As soon as Fred gets out of bed,
his underwear goes on his head.
His mother laughs, “Don’t put it there,
a head’s no place for underwear!”
But near his ears, above his brains,
is where Fred’s underwear remains.
At night when Fred goes back to bed,
he deftly plucks it off his head.
His mother switches off the light
and softly croons, “Good night! Good night!”
And then, for reasons no one knows,
Fred’s underwear goes on his toes.
This is a children’s poem that has a lot of humour in it! I wish that I could be funny, but writing humour doesn’t come naturally to me. What does come naturally to me though is emotion and who’s to say that Jack can grab your heart in the same way that I can? So yes, Jack has strong points that I don’t have in my writing, but instead of comparing myself I need to look at what I’m good at!
Take mine for example:
I had an amazing idea for a short story in my head so I grabbed my pen and paper and began to write. Needless to say I have not done whatever was in my head justice at all – what I wrote is shit.
I started doing edits to it as you can see but it just wasn’t working out so I’ve ripped this page out and started again.
Your first draft is allowed to be shit. It is extremely uncommon to write a story and think ‘this is perfect.’ There’s always mistakes whether it just be spellings or a character that doesn’t work. For me I know that my first draft does nothing to grip the reader. But that’s okay because it’s not finished yet! My second draft will be much better and maybe it will take me ten rewrites to get it perfect but I will get there!
Here is a writing prompt from me. If you decide to go ahead and use it, I would love to see what you come up with:
Your Grandparents have died and you are going through their house, sorting out their personal belongings. What item do you find hidden that means a lot to you? It may be an item of clothing, book, ornament etc. Write a little story or poem about this item.
Here is mine:
Book of Passed
My fingertips trace the outline of the old, leather-bound cover, leaving dusty smears. The pages are yellowed with age, though the cellophane wrapped photos are still looking crisp. Faces of family that are all long forgotten, their memories remaining in this one precious book. Captures of irreplaceable moments and people I will never meet, yet they are somehow all a part of me. The old woman sat unsmiling at the fireplace mirrors my oval face and the young boy, laughing and playing golf has handed me down his thin lips.
I have an essay and two portfolios to hand in next week and due to this my brain is completely empty. I have never had to come up with so many concepts to write about before. For one of my portfolios I am focusing on prose poems which are quite simply a cross between poetry and stories and are meant to evoke feelings rather than characterisation. I was sat here for hours completely stuck on what to write, so guess what I did? I wrote a prose poem about writers block!
No matter what your state of mind is, remember that there is always something to write about!
So I found these great poem starters on a site called Creative Writing Now which are ideas you can write poems about and some of them I can’t wait to try out such as the one about being underwater. Here they are:
- A particular color
- Being underwater
- A person whose life you’re curious about
- Your mother’s perfume
- Falling asleep or waking up
- Growing older
- The feeling of getting lost in a book
- How to know if you’re in love
- A bad dream
- A ghost
- Your city, town, or neighborhood
- An important life choice you’ve made
- Spring, summer, fall, or winter
- Something most people see as ugly but which you see as beautiful
- Becoming a parent
- An event that changed you
- A place you visited — how you imagined it beforehand, and what it was actually like
- The ocean
- The speed of light
- A voodoo doll
- Reflections on a window
- A newspaper headline
- Your greatest fear
- Your grandmother’s hands
- A particular toy you had as a child
- Being invisible
- A time you felt homesick
- Having an affair, or discovering your partner is having one
- A favorite food and a specific memory of eating it
- An imaginary city
- Driving with the radio on
- Life in an aquarium
- Walking with your eyes closed
- What a computer might daydream about
- Time travel
- Brothers or sisters
- Your job, or a job you’ve had
- Leaving home
- A zoo
- A historical event from the perspective of someone who saw it firsthand (You will have to do some research for this).
- Holding your breath
- Intimacy and privacy
- A time you were tempted to do something you feel is wrong
- Physical attraction to someone
- A superstition you have
- Someone you admire
So whilst in my Writer’s Workshop lesson, an author came in to speak to us and gave me this lovely technique, which has helped me since write a short story and also a poem!
First of all you shut your eyes. Imagine yourself led down. Where are you led? What’s the weather like? Take notice of your surroundings. Each time someone does this, they imagine themselves somewhere completely different. I imagined myself in a dark field at night, whereas my friend imagined herself led on a beach.
After taking notice of your surroundings (Eyes still shut) turn your head to the left, there is a shadow approaching. Wait for it to get closer. What or whom is it? When they reach you, what do they want? Again I imagined my cat who had died years back approaching me, whereas my friend imagined a boy.
From this I managed to get a short story about going to a field to visit my dead cat every night, because I couldn’t let her go. I asked my friend to do this technique and wrote a poem from her experience.