Thursday, April 4, 2013
A Word About Colons
Post by Kristy McCaffrey
I’m here to write about punctuation, not the human intestine. Just wanted to be clear up front.
I’m really not a fan of the colon. And I’m really not a fan when a writer uses it ad nauseam. I recently finished a book in which the author used colons with such abandon that at times I was confused about what I was reading. Every paragraph contained at least 4-5 of the buggers and it was a very long book. I won’t reveal the work because despite my punctuation frustration I REALLY liked this book. The writer told a fabulous story and, for the most part, used colons correctly. But I believe that authors should try to be as invisible as possible, and anything that draws attention to the fact that ME THE AUTHOR was here should be removed. The colons were a huge distraction, and the author’s love of them even more so. Periods and commas work very well; never underestimate the power of simple writing. Here’s a sentence that had me throwing my hands in the air:
The home page of shaadi.com exhorts the unmarried to have faith: “20 million miracles and counting: Register free.”
Yes, grammatically this is correct, but two colons in one sentence? Really? I suppose this wouldn’t have irritated me if hundreds of colons hadn’t already preceded it. I should note that I used a colon to set off the quote. Applied sparingly they’re as invisible as any other punctuation should be. Strunk and White define that a colon should be used “after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.”
I’m currently reading another book in which the author uses colons (and semicolons, periods, commas and quotation marks) incorrectly. It’s a pre-publication copy given to me in exchange for a review. The author conveyed to me that the book is still being edited, which is a relief because this is the most unpolished manuscript I’ve ever seen. What I’m reading is a first draft, and no one but the author should ever see this. She drops colons into her dialogue and sentences like they’re commas or periods, clearly smacking the colon button whenever the mood strikes. I’ve nearly thrown this book at the wall too many times to count. However, like the first book mentioned, the story is quite good. And so I persevere in deference to the Story God.
As an author, am I too severe on the work of others? Possibly. In some ways becoming a writer makes reading less enjoyable. It can be a challenge to simply enjoy a story without critiquing it. With therapy and medication writers can overcome this. (Okay, I’m kidding.) I try hard to appreciate storytelling even if the mechanics of writing don’t line up. However, there’s no excuse for a sloppy format, and every author should strive for excellence in their work.
If you find that you have a deep infatuation with the colon then it might be time to create distance in the relationship. Stop hanging out together and rewrite sentences so the cute double dots don’t creep their way in. Save the spotlight for when it’s truly needed—and that would be the emoticon, of course. :-)