Friday 7 May 2010

Punctuation (The Colon)

Punctuation, like language itself, is an evolving form. Much of today’s punctuation wasn’t in existence a few centuries ago. The colon as a punctuation mark, however, was introduced in the 16th century.

What’s so important about the colon if it’s survived for nearly half a millennia? That’s because it’s a versatile punctuation mark and can introduce:

• lists
• questions
• explanations
• conclusions
• descriptions
• quotations
• definitions
• direct speech
• subtitles or subheadings

In creative writing, however, what the colon does best is take the reader’s interest forward to the next important disclosure of information. Noah Lukeman likens the colon to a magician. It builds up the suspense, waits for just the right moment and then whips back the curtain to reveal what’s coming next.

Compare these two examples:

I want to tell you that I love you.

I want to tell you this: I love you.

The first example doesn't have the same sense of anticipation that the second one does; it’s almost a casual sentiment, expressed dispassionately.

By using the colon, there is a build-up of tension that entices the reader (what does he want to tell me?), followed by the breathless wait of the colon and, violá, the firmly stated “I love you”. It’s as if the magician has whipped away the curtain to shine a spotlight directly on the “I love you” to make the phrase stand out from the other words in a way it didn’t in the first example. Coming after the colon, there is a finality to the statement that leaves no doubt about the depth of the speaker’s feelings.

(And did you notice how I used the colon to introduce the list of examples?)

If you never use a colon in your creative writing, it probably won’t be missed. But – as addictive as the semi-colon – the overuse of the colon can result in so many dramatic revelations on a page that it loses its impact.

When using a colon, ask yourself is this colon really necessary? It may be that the clauses are not related, or that the colon has acted as a bridge for two half-thoughts rather then leading one independent thought into another. Let the text itself dictate the use of a colon. If the sentence is inherently dramatic a colon may not be needed. You may find that, by removing a colon, your sentence flows more naturally and is less melodramatic.

Although the colon has been around for hundreds of years, recent evolution has seen it under threat from another punctuation mark – the dash, which is the subject of my next post on punctuation.

Learning about the dash will, however, have to wait until my return at the end of May. We'll be meandering down to the Mother City (Cape Town) in the car and I’ll be taking a blog break for a few weeks. Please browse the archives and make yourself at home while I'm gone. You can browse the archives in the side bar or here are some old articles you may find interesting:

What is Creativity?
In Pursuit of Excellence
The Road to Timbuktu
The Way of the Writing Warrior

Have fun and happy blogging!

"The Art of Punctuation" by Noah Lukeman
"Penguin Writers' Guides: How to Puntuate" by George Davidson
"Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lyn Truss
Image by Salvatore Vuono (free on

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Publication (again!)

No, no! It's still not me!  Husband's second book has just hit the shelves! And this is the exciting one. You can admire this book's cover here.

I've followed the progress of "Taxpayers' Rights in South Africa" since 1994 as we sat watching the constitution of the newly democratic South Africa become entrenched in our law. Since then, Beric has been fascinated with the interplay between his passion (tax) and constitutional law. It's been a long road: first short articles, then detailed research, then his PhD and now, finally, publication. There's one more step to go. He wants to convert this book into an easier, more accessible guide for the man in the street; sort of "An Idiot's Guide to Taxpayers' Rights".  That's the version I'll understand!!

For the moment, I'm happy to bask in the reflected glory of being the wife of a published author. But next time you see this title on my blog I hope it will be me!  

Saturday 1 May 2010


Before everyone gets too excited, I'm not published (yet!), but Husband has had his first book published. This one is co-authored; I can hardly wait to see his own book in hard copy.

It's been an interesting process watching this book (and his own book due out next week) grow from a concept to a real printed book that I've held in my hands! What struck me the most was how s-l-o-w the whole publishing process is. It's given me a new perspective on the road we must take to get our stories out there.  And it's shown me that any aspiring author needs patience, patience, patience...and a little bit of Lady Luck's favour.

You can admire Husband's book cover by visiting his blog!