Punctuation and Personality Type in Fiction

In his blog post The Great Semi-Colon Debate, author James Scott Bell says that semicolons should be avoided in fiction. I agree to a point, but I wouldn’t ban them altogether. If used skillfully, semicolons can reveal character in dialogue and internal monologue.

In my own fiction writing, I associate certain punctuation marks with the speech patterns of certain personality types. These aren’t hard rules, of course. But here’s my list of punctuation marks and the personality types that go with them.

Semicolons: INPs

INFPs and INTPs communicate with the world through extraverted intuition. Intuition naturally sees all ideas as connected. But as introverts, the INPs think before they speak. This combination of tendencies leads to sentences that are long but carefully constructed; the semicolon is the best punctuation mark to communicate this quality.

Comma splices: ENPs

Continue reading “Punctuation and Personality Type in Fiction”

Breaking the Rules: Question Marks in Dialogue and Informal Communication

When it comes to writing, rules can be a wonderful thing. They help ensure consistency, and they relieve writers from having to make endless decisions about mundane questions like which punctuation mark to use. Sometimes, though, usage rules can get in the way of clear communication. In creative writing or informal communication like email, writers have the freedom to reject those rules if they don’t find them useful.

The rules say to use a question mark in the following situations:

  • At the end of a direct question: Whose meatball is that?
  • To express doubt or uncertainty: Leona was born in 1960[?], which would mean her current age is 49.
  • To express confusion or disbelief: You call that a sandwich?

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, a “courtesy question” does not require a question mark. For example, “Will you please remove your shoes before entering the sanctuary” is a statement, not a question.

In Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner puts it this way: “A question mark follows every question that expects an answer.”

Sometimes, though, I expect an answer even if I don’t phrase the sentence as a question. Consider the following: “I wonder if I have time to stop at the post office before lunch?” This is the reverse of a courtesy question: it’s a question phrased as a statement. What I mean is, “I want to stop at the post office before lunch. Do you mind?” But this phrasing makes it awkward for someone to say, “I’ve got a 1:00 meeting.  I was hoping everyone could be at the restaurant by noon.” So I cloak my desire in an absent sort of wondering to make it easier for someone to tell me no. Continue reading “Breaking the Rules: Question Marks in Dialogue and Informal Communication”