26 August 2013

Punctuation. Rules. Creativity.

As a member of a writing critique group for three years, we often find ourselves, both as a group and as individuals, wrestling with the rules of writing: syntax, construction, and especially punctuation. When does it make sense to follow a given set of rules? Which rule set? Is English grammar really that fixed? And aren't these rules the very things sheltering real writers from the barbarians at the gate - u no wut i meen HMU l8tr

One of the many things I'm 'currently reading' (see my Goodreads page) is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Imagine my inward chuckle when I thought about the group critiquing this passage from Mrs. Dalloway:
“Fear no more,” said Clarissa. Fear no more the heat o’ the sun; for the shock of Lady Bruton asking Richard to lunch without her made the moment in which she had stood shiver, as a plant on the river-bed feels the shock of a passing oar and shivers: so she rocked: so she shivered.
First off, I was simply struck by the imagery used in the language. It is clear, easy to understand and visualize, vibrant. But look at how the paragraph is punctuated, with semi-colons and colons, and, more importantly to one engaged in editing, a single sentence with not just one but TWO colons! Oh my. Oh my my. Where is my red pen?

Does it not work? Is it simply old-fashioned (now)? Or did Virginia Woolf understand the use of a colon and use it masterfully? And what about "made the moment...shiver"? Moments can shiver? Oh, and there is that use of 'her': while we understand it to refer to Clarissa, the object of the clause, the only female proper name used in the sentence is "Lady Bruton."

Hmm. Hmmmmm. What comments would I write on Virginia's submission if she were a member of our little critique circle and she was working on Mrs. Dalloway? What suggestions would you make? And no, you can't say "I'd make no comments since the paragraph is simply perfect as it is," since 'no one' writes like this today. [Just an aside - ran across this blog post a couple days ago and have never really thought about cubism's influence on literature.]

Get your own copy of Mrs. Dalloway at Amazon. Or you can read it online or download a free copy of the ebook from ebooks@Adelaide.

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