Punctuation personalities.

Sometimes being a playwright and also being a copyeditor collide in really weird ways. I already obsess over punctuation way more than the average person, but when I’m writing, it takes on a whole new level. It’s more than just “this character wouldn’t speak in really long sentences or use big words.” The different punctuation marks actually start to take on different personalities. And it’s hard to use them, even if they’re grammatically correct, if their personalities don’t match those of whoever is talking.

Is that weird? Does that even make sense? It’s like, semicolons. That’s a big one. I obviously know how to use them (for the non-grammarians: basically you need to have a complete sentence on either side), but they feel really official and kind of snooty. Very few, if any, of my characters would ever use a semicolon. So if someone is speaking in short phrases, I find myself either splitting them into short sentences or using a comma, even if the comma is incorrect and should be a semicolon.

But herein, of course, lies a new problem. Sometimes you don’t want to use two separate sentences because that divide feels too “major.” But the comma would be grammatically incorrect. And that really irritates my inner copyeditor. And I start thinking about a million steps down the line, about how if this script ever got published someday, the copyeditor working on it would think that I don’t know how to use correct grammar. And then that copyeditor would change my commas to semicolons, and then not only will I look stupid, but those lines won’t “feel” right.

I’m working on a new play now, and I just wrote three little independent thoughts in a row, and separate sentences would’ve felt too divided. But semicolons would have just been… wrong. Too intellectual. So I used commas and felt really weird about it, like chewing gum in school or something, and had to come write this.

I obviously don’t mind using sentence fragments and things like that in creative writing. But punctuation is different. It’s not supposed to be creative (unless it’s the interrobang). But, in my world, an ellipsis is totally different from writing “(pause),” which is also different from writing “(beat).”  A “pause” in my brain is longer than a “beat.” An ellipsis is someone trailing off. It’s not quite a pause. And an em dash means the character is getting cut off and interrupted.

Does anyone else, writer or copyeditor or not, overthink things like this? Or do you overthink about other things that are completely unrelated to writing?

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