Phonetic Punctuation: How Do You Hear Punctuation Marks in Your Writing?

I once wrote a post suggesting that writers should think of their writing as music, but what happens when someone takes this seriously? What would happen if we actually sounded out punctuation marks when we spoke, for instance? Well . . . we would then be using what Victor Borge aptly calls phonetic punctuation. Though he approaches the idea with humor, it’s worth noting that, in addition to being a comedian, Mr. Borge was also a conductor and a pianist. It’s probably fair to say that he understood punctuation in ways many writers do not.

Punctuation is a tricky thing. All those marks decorating the page, silent and unavoidable in our writing. Yet, those marks — which have no actual phonetic transcription, no sound (minus Victor Borge’s interpretation) — are the rhythmic backbones of words. How is that?

When you use punctuation in your stories, you are transcribing beats — pauses — that enhance and maintain the rhythm of your prose. But if you think of it from the standpoint of sound, as he does in the video, perhaps it may change your perspective. If you think of letters and words as the carriers of sound and meaning, then punctuation marks are the bridges, the ropes stringing them together.

Keep that in mind when you’re writing. Punctuation is a tool, and though it’s relatively easy to use within the given rules of a language, it’s still one of the most difficult tools in the writer’s arsenal to master. You have to learn to hear it the same way you hear letters and words: every pause, every stop, every small inhalation. That’s what gives your writing a pulse.

Alas, since I’ve got 10,000 more words to write for my thesis by the middle of December, all writing effort is going to it at the moment, which is the primary reason why there will be no editing post this week. However, so as not to leave you all empty-handed, I’ll share this amusing, yet linguistically thought-provoking video of phonetic punctuation. Enjoy!

How do you hear punctuation marks in your writing?

Sometimes Humorous Elements of the Writing Life

Humorous Elements of a Writer's LifeNo one understands a writer like another writer. This fact has led to numerous interesting . . . um . . . experiences with non-writer friends and family. This list (in no particular order) is far from complete. In fact, we invite you to continue adding to the list in the comments. We are writers here. If we can’t laugh with each other, we’re all in missing out, right?

1.  Most writers never quite agree when told a piece is good. All we can see are the flaws and weaknesses. We desire to be told it is good, but don’t fully believe it. And we argue about it.

2.  People avoid your writing space for weeks, but the day you decide to tackle the sex scene, every family member wanders by to look over your shoulder and ask what you’re writing.

3.  Characters have no manners. They start talking during meetings, at dinner, and any other inopportune moment they can find.

4.  Most loved ones never get used to you suddenly staring off into space, unresponsive to their presence. You’d think, as often as it happens, they’d eventually adjust, right?

5.  No one outside of other writers understands the emotional impact of putting a favorite character through the wringer or having a character die. Efforts to explain go nowhere.

6.  Some writers take on characteristics of their main character while in draft. Now that makes for some interesting exchanges with family and friends.

7.  Writers are more likely to develop an ulcer from caffeine consumption than a deadline. We’d just rather blame the deadline for the caffeine.

8.  Friends want to celebrate when we finish a draft. We’d rather hole up with a bottle of wine and mourn.

9.  As soon as you begin writing the middle of a novel, you’ll get half a dozen much more interesting ideas for new stories. It never fails.

10. Nothing induces panic in a writer like words going fallow. We’re afraid the words won’t come back, even when we know they always do.

11. Few of us escape the embarrassment of being caught acting out dialog for both characters. Out loud.

12. No loved one is quite prepared for a writer’s reaction when they are interrupted and pulled out of flow. For that matter, neither are most writers.

13. People in a writer’s life don’t understand why we complain about doing something we profess to love unless they are also a writer.

14. Only a writer can go to the mall and call it observational research.

15. Writers are best paired with non-jealous significant others. More than one writer has muttered the name of the hero or heroine in their sleep.

16. Most writers are clearly not quite normal. Gossip is writing fodder. So are the doings of everyone we know. No one in a writer’s life knows how a bit of them will come out on the page, but it’s a safe bet they’ll eventually find out.


Your turn. Add to the list and keep it going.

Change Your View

When starting out on an adventure into a new writing project, a writer tends to decide on the POV (a.k.a point of view) in the pre-production phase (a.k.a the hell before the actual writing).   Selecting the POV prior to writing the first draft will help the story flow in the direction that writer has defined.  The chosen point of view is vital in rendering all aspects of the story, pulling the characters, scene, setting, and plot together in a nice package.  Most writers, especially novice, tend to lean towards one specific POV.  While it is good to be a master in a specific area, utilizing varying viewpoints keeps writing fresh and it also helps hone the writing craft – making the writer a more experienced.

Try shifting POV within your story.  Here are a few thoughts to chew on:

Try looking through someone else's eyes. (c) clarita

Try looking through someone else’s eyes. (c) clarita

1.  The story can be told from one limited perspective, but the story does not have to revolve around this specific character. Take one character’s perspective, keep it limited, and use that view to stay outside of the story.  Tell a story as though the viewing character is watching a film.  As we read a story through one character’s limited perspective, over time we tend to trust that character’s view.  At the point that the character is believed to be reliable, readers can relate and sympathize with other characters as they are seen by the POV character.  The Saga comic series / space opera written by the famed Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Y: The Last Man) is a fantastic example of this scenario.  The story in Saga is told by Hazel, the daughter of Marko and Alana.  Hazel narrates the story, which starts with her POV of her family and the universe before she is born.  She does a retrospective history of interstellar society and events prior to her actual birth and how it affects her… um… conception.  From her viewpoint, we sympathize with her parents who are hunted mixed-species lovers.  Had the viewpoint been of another character’s, say Gwendolyn (Marko’s ex-fiancee) or Prince Robot IV, both who view the Marko-Alana relationship as vile, the reader would believe that the relationship between the two main characters is unacceptable — an abomination.  Yet, with Hazel’s POV, the Marko-Alana relationship, though sometimes toxic, is actually a beautiful love story.  Using a single character’s viewpoint, as an outsider who is watching the story unfold where they themselves are not the main character, can make for an epic story – when written correctly.  If this limited POV does not hold true or the reader cannot trust the character’s viewpoint, then the story will languish.

2. Perspectives can shift.  A story does not have to remain with the viewpoint of one character.  A story can be told through the view of other characters.  However, caution must be used when switching perspective.  Heard of the phrase “head-hopping”?  This occurs when a writer switches the POV from one character to another and gives no indication that the shift in view is about to occur.  Anytime the viewpoint is going to shift, give a clear indication of the change.  There are a host of actions that can be used to show this shift.  One action is to have a secondary character touch or indicate towards his or her head.  That is a signal to the reader that the POV is about to shift to that new character’s head.  However, the action is a little overused and I suggest coming up with something a little more unique.  The next (and simplest) option is to use a scene or chapter break and change the character POV during that transition.  Another option is to have clearly distinguishable voices for the characters that will be having a viewpoint.

3. Carefully play “God” with omniscience. Through an omniscient viewpoint, a writer can use many different POVs.  If this POV is done correctly, the reader will be able to see all thoughts and feelings of several characters at one time.  With this viewpoint, the writer can freely choose which head to “talk” from.  However, this can prove difficult for a reader to digest.  Again, head-hopping is a threat and the reader can easily become lost.  A reader may also lack establishment with the book and is unable to connect with the characters.  Sacrifices need to be made that worked well with only the Limited view (i.e., point #1).  Limited criteria can be dismal to the omniscience, so think carefully about how to establish this multi-view narration.  However, as a writer, if you can balance out the multiple POVs effectively, you will have a masterpiece.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a phenomenal book in 2001 called Middle Age: A Romance. This book uses a multitude of character POVs, intertwining the lives of the character and their views.  If you want to read a book that expertly executes the use of point of view, I highly recommend Oates’ book.

Be experimental and expand your horizons.  Play around with POVs and don’t keep to one type.  Remember to keep true to the perspective that you have taken on, whether it is in that moment or for the whole story.

Here are just a final few tidbits from other members of The Sarcastic Muse that will help your POVs:

1. Don’t cheat on your tense.  Ensure you don’t break tense as this tends to happen with multiple viewpoints.  Click here for Chris’ post on tense.

2. Pick up all detached body parts.  Sometimes a character’s view will… um… make “disembodied” body parts.  Read Michelle’s post on how to keep those pieces attached to an actual body (she didn’t specify if the body had to be living).  However, if you are writing a story about possessed body parts, maybe a detached hand that sharpens its fingers in a pencil sharpener to make razor sharp bone points to stab innocent high schoolers, then please feel free to skip this post.

What are your thoughts on shifting perspectives?  Have you successfully shifted POV within a story?  Do you switch up your POV type when starting a new writing project?  Comment below, we love hearing from our readers!

Writing 101 – Conflict


(c) Robyn LaRue 2014

Conflict is drama if Hollywood is to be believed. It is the root of all adventure, the spice in all romance, and the gut-wrenching horror in all…well, horror. Without conflict, ours stories wouldn’t really go anywhere. There would be nothing to disrupt the status quo of a character’s life and no reason to follow them further than the first page. We would invest nothing more in them than a passing glimpse, maybe even a mutual nod, before they vanished from our lives and our libraries forever.

A story without conflict is just an account of someone’s day and unless that person is the President of the USA, or some other make believe creature, that’s going to make for some pretty boring reading. Actually, it’d still be touch and go even then unless there was the threat of nuclear war or a crack team of North Korean special forces attacked the White House…oh, wait! That’s conflict.

We at Sarcastic Muse thrive on conflict. When we’re not at each other’s throats, we’re writing about monsters ripping out other people’s throats…actually that’s just me and Amanda…scratch that.


There are two types of conflict from which all others stem: Internal and External.

External conflict is the most common. This is a force imposed on the character from a source outside their own body. It could be man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. machine. The list is endless.

Internal conflict is an exerting force acting from within the character. It can be a compulsion, a shift in persona or outlook, or something as simple as a loss of memory.

Whatever form conflict takes, it will be the driving force in your story. It will keep your character searching for that pot of gold we writers know as resolution.

Using conflict

1. Pay attention to your genre

Some genres come with pre-defined conflicts. Crime isn’t crime without…well crime. Romance too has a number of preset and well used conflict types. These are great to get the old noggin-hamsters running but don’t let them confine you.

2. Conflict should have a purpose

Arguments for the sake of arguments are fun and all but they don’t make for great fiction. Likewise, unfathomable plots and non-stop action can easily lead to your reader getting lost. Use conflict to propel your story forward, but let the reader keep up.

3. Setbacks keep the pressure on

Just as writing begets writing, conflict is conflict’s playmate. Keep your characters permanently on their toes by placing stumbling blocks in their way. Torture them until such time as you decide to reward them (or not) with their much desired resolution.

4. Conflict should be natural

Conflict can be unexpected, it can be unusual, it can be something nobody ever imagined before, but it MUST be logical within the confines of the story world. The threat of human extinction by solar gamma radiation is a good conflict pit that against a femme-fatale scientist has all the hallmarks of a Tinseltown blockbuster. And yet, all that hard work goes out the window when you set it in Ancient Rome or even Brontë’s Yorkshire.

Okay, cards on the table time. I’m writing this post in response to a rather diabolical (no pun intended) movie I watched recently. I won’t say which but the plot involved the sacrifice of a family in order to expel a demon that was threatening a small town. Fine so far, right? It all falls apart when you discover that the demon in question was raised for the sole purpose of accepting the sacrifice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole problem would have just gone away if they never raised the damned (pun intended this time) thing in the first place. This leads me nicely into my final point…

5. Conflict should not be easy to resolve

Make your characters work for it and even then, don’t always give it to them.

Do any of you have a problem with conflict in your writing? Any other tips you wish to share? Do you all agree about the demon thing?



Coming soon from Sarcastic Muse Press –  Jane Eyre: Mass Extinction by Chris Musgrave and the bits of Charlotte Brontë I could find.