In our first post on the powerhouse of writing, we look at how full stops can strengthen your writing.
The Powerhouse Of Writing 1: The Full Stop
As a writer, you must know more than your ABCs, fancy words, or stylish phrases. You also need to know how to relate those words to your reader – that’s where punctuation kicks in.
Building on our successful series Punctuation For Beginners, we will now look beyond the grammar rules. What teachers usually don’t tell you is that those punctuation marks are the powerhouse of writing. Used correctly, punctuation can supercharge your text.
This article is the first in a series where I’ll try to show just where that power lies.
Today, we’ll look at full stops. Please read our post: Punctuation For Beginners: All About Full Stops for the basics of full stops.
The Powerhouse Of Writing 1: The Full Stop
Grammar books tell us that full stops mark the end of a sentence. Yet they also
- create logical units.
- give breathers.
- give clarity and power to your writing.
Working in radio journalism, I’ve learned to use punctuation to steer my breath. This connection is at the heart of any oral or written text. It’s probably more apparent in poetry, but it is true for prose, nonetheless.
When we speak, we end each sentence naturally when we run out of air. People can hear the full stop because our voice tells them. Every time we ‘speak’ a full stop, the melody of our voice drops in pitch.
If that drop in pitch does not come, people sound breathless, and listeners get irritated. Full stops are needed to keep on listening and reading.
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Full Stops Create Logical Units
How do you know when to place a full stop? It marks the end of a logical unit. That may seem trivial but it’s extremely important. As readers, we need this signal to take that split second and get ready for the next logical unit. It’s how we move through a text. Let me show you.
Here’s an incomplete sentence:
Example: Peter went to the supermarket and
We’re not able to complete that logical unit because the sentence breaks off on a semantic level. Readers wouldn’t accept a text made up of these kinds of units.
After each logical unit, our brain notices the closure of the full stop and causes us to breathe (physically and mentally!). This lets us go on to the next sentence.
Notice what happens if you don’t get that closure. Here’s a famous example where all punctuation is missing. Try to read this quote from James Joyce out loud:
‘Yes because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City Arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting for that old faggot Mr. Riordan that he thought he had a great leg if and she never left us a farthing all for […]’
[The text goes on like that for about 40 more pages.]
Source: James Joyce, Ulysses, 1986 (p. 608).
What effect does this have? Most readers feel breathless and confused.
That’s because texts without punctuation don’t provide logical units. It’s all one stream of information (this technique is called ‘stream of consciousness’). Most of us will need to re-read the above text and punctuate it in our minds. Our brains simply need these logical units to digest the information.
So, let’s place those full stops.
‘He never did a thing like that before. He never asked to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City Arms hotel. There, he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting for that old faggot Mr. Riordan. He thought he had a great leg if and she never left us a farthing all for […]’
Gets easier to read, doesn’t it? But full stops can do so much more for you.
2. Full Stops Give Breathers
By creating logical units, and by providing closure, a simple full stop serves as a signal to the reader that it’s ok to relax. It’s this relaxation that keeps the reader going. If the author fails to provide this signal, the reader’s brain will try to create it.
This happens on an unconscious level. Because the readers aren’t yet accustomed to your text, they will go back and forth to find that perfect spot for closure. This is incredibly complicated and strenuous for our brain.
This is why our example from James Joyce is making the reader work extra hard. Therefore, use this style with caution! It’s a strong impulse to stop reading your text.
3. Full Stops Give Clarity And Power To Your Writing
Full stops are a great pacing tool, too. Lyrical descriptions are often wordy and lengthy. Hard-boiled detective novels have short sentences. Why?
Because the lyrical wants to keep the reader encapsulated in one specific moment. Each logical unit contains lots of details, and it takes longer to reach the closure of the full stop. Even if readers can follow you through that long sentence, you will stress the readers’ attention span.
Detective novels are full of action. Readers are supposed to come along quickly. Complicated actions are broken down into smaller logical units (shorter sentences). Closure needs to be supplied fast and often, so the readers don’t stumble as they move through a paragraph. Shorter sentences are easier to understand. Their structure gives them clarity.
Let me show the power of full stops with a little example:
‘Your job as a writer is to get information across, to create moods and atmosphere, and, ultimately, entertain your readers.
Instead of spilling your stories onto the page, take your readers by their hands and lead them into your imaginary world. You’re a show-master who gets the dancers, singers, and actors onto the stage and spurs them on to give their best for your readers.’
Source: Susanne Bennett, 16 July 2022
This text is easy to read but the sentences are long. There are subsidiary clauses and enumerations which slow down the readers’ speed.
Here’s an alternative with more full stops. Read it out loud so you can hear the difference.
‘Your job as a writer is to get information across. Your job is to create moods and atmosphere. Ultimately, your job is to entertain your readers.
Your job is not to spill your stories onto the page. Take your readers by their hands and lead them into your imaginary world. You’re a show-master. Get the dancers, singers, and actors onto the stage and spur them on to give their best for your readers.’
Source: Susanne Bennett, 16 July 2022
See what I mean? It sounds more decisive, powerful, and action-driven. It’s all in the full stops.
The Last Word
Remember, the dosage makes the poison. Full stops are a great tool. Use too many and you create a staccato rhythm. This can sound very monotonous.
I hope you learned something about the powerhouse of writing, using the full stop.
Our next post in this series will show you the power of commas. They supply breathers and meaning, and they can really keep your reader on the page.
- The Powerhouse Of Writing 1: The Full Stop
- The Powerhouse Of Writing 2: The Comma
- The Powerhouse Of Writing 3: The Exclamation Mark
- The Powerhouse Of Writing 4: The Question Mark
- The Powerhouse Of Writing 5: Quotation Marks
- The Powerhouse Of Writing 6: Colons, Semicolons, & Dashes
By Susanne Bennett.
Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
More Posts From Susanne
- How To Play Surrealist Word Games
- How To Write Surrealist Poetry
- What Is Automatic Writing?
- Surrealism – What Every Writer Should Know
- How To Write Without Your Muse
- Why You Should Love Doing A Rewrite
- 10 Things That Stifle A Writer’s Creativity
- What Procrastination Can Do For You
- What Is A Pastiche & Why Should I Write One?
- What Is A Satire & How Do I Write One?