If you’re one of those folks who simply can’t stand not giving your readers stage directions (multiple punctuation marks, boldface, italic fonts, UPPER case letters, or God forbid, all FOUR!?!) then you should probably be keeping a journal. Not because you may want to record insightful thoughts about tender moments in your life, but as a convenient storage place for all the EXCITEMENT IN YOUR WRITING!!!
When it comes to font follies, I’m firmly in the minimalist camp. At least in my novels and short stories. I will italicize a word or two from time to time, but I try to limit that. As for the rest, no thank you. Why? Because readers hate it. They don’t need to be told what’s funny, or exciting, or puzzling, or ironic. Playing games with the typography won’t improve crappy writing any more than will printing it in a different color or on heavier paper. The only thing you can do to make your story more exciting, or funny, or whatever, is to concentrate on what will best garner those results.
You want mystery? Pose something mysterious. You want excitement? Put your players in peril. You want irony? Design it into your plot or better yet, let one of your characters slam into it at an awkward moment, preferably while being chased by a demon, an ex-spouse, a former employer, or perhaps a debt collector.
I don’t get much pleasure from chatting about the mechanics of writing. For most folks it’s deadly dull. But, when I look at some of my student’s work, I wonder if any of this is still covered in schools. I know many systems have abandoned cursive writing, but have they abandoned writing basics, or did that go out of fashion with chalk and slates?
Maybe it’s the influence of email, the internet, and social media monstrosities like Twitter, wherein the user–from president to pauper–wraps up a complete message in 128 characters or less. But hark! If you’re not tweeting, you aren’t subject to those limits, so you can use <gasp> the entire alphabet. You don’t have to construct tortured words to abreeV8 and save on your letter limits or pile up punctuation like rush hour commuters in order to convey meaning. Instead, you can actually write.
And, as long as I’m on this particular rant, allow me to point out the proper function of ellipses. These are the three little dots that have somehow gained super grammatical power among the Twitter folk and others who never had a terribly firm grasp on the finer points of punctuation. In short, ellipses do one of two things: they either indicate when a voice trails off (making it impossible to “hear” the rest of what’s being said), OR they indicate words a writer has deliberately left out, whether from a quote or some other source. In either case, the dots represent words that aren’t there.
Please note: the ellipsis, like the typographical nonsense alluded to earlier, is not meant to be used as stage direction. It doesn’t indicate a dramatic pause, shift change at the brewery, a hurried breath, time to signal the third base coach, or anything else. It stands for words that aren’t there.
And, by the way, an ellipsis has three (3) dots. No more, no less. Creating a line of dots longer than that will only annoy readers, especially editors, who more often than not love the language and hate to see it cluttered up. So, clutter not!
The take-away for today: be a writer, not a typesetter.
Please, feel free to argue with me. I’d love to hear some good reasons for using all these typographical tricks. I’m ready, really; so HIT me!?!