October 17, 2018

Improve Your Writing With The “Punctuate This” Challenge

by Ryan

I got this writing exercise from one of my mentors, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, at a workshop I did a few years back. I found it very instructive. It's simple to explain, and much harder to do.


Punctuate This | Rules

The concept is simple enough.

  • Open the Excerpt section below. It contains a short excerpt from a book—but only the text. No punctuation. No paragraphing. No capitalization. Nothing except a straight block of text. I did keep the spaces.
  • Copy the excerpt into your word processor. You can do that either by typing or just select, copy, and paste.
  • Add the missing punctuation and paragraphing. 
  • After you finish, go ahead and expand the Original section to compare your punctuation and paragraphing with the original work.

I've also included links to the original books in the examples, if you'd like to get a copy. These are affiliate links, so I get a small percentage from purchases, which I really appreciate.

Punctuate This | Questions

As you study the results and compare your work with the original work, consider some of these questions. You may want to write your thoughts down, if that helps.

  • How do the two different versions sound? What are the differences in the voice of the piece? The character's voice?
  • What differences are there in the pacing of the two different versions? Is one faster or slower than the other?
  • In what ways does the punctuation and paragraphing reveal character? Setting?
  • What else strikes you about the differences between the versions?

Check back. I'll add more examples for you to try in the future. If you want to learn when I've added more, or added other information to the site, sign up for Readinary, my readers' group.

Punctuate This | Exercises

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton



I read Guilty Pleasures for the first time (of many) years ago when it was still an original Ace paperback. I devoured the series, which at the time I discovered it was only the first few books. Since then, I've collected the books in hardcover, ebook, and paperback formats. I've listened to books. And I made it a point to read all of Laurell K. Hamilton's other books.

I have the latest Anita Blake book, Serpentine, on my stack of books to read. I'm not a fan of the hardware covers. It seems like the publishers have always struggled with how to brand the series. Is it horror? Romance? Erotica? They can't seem to figure it out and they keep changing the branding so the hardcovers don't match. Sigh.

A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers



I discovered Becky Chambers' A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet when I read somewhere the description. "Like Firefly — with aliens." It sounded like something I would like!

I enjoy science fiction with alien species, interplanetary space travel, and interesting characters. This book had all of that and much more. I became an instant fan after reading the first book and picked up each that followed as soon as I could.

A Dangerous Road: A Smokey Dalton Novel by Kris Nelscott



I remember reading A Dangerous Road and thinking that, "I wish I could write a book this good."

Kris Nelscott wrote a mystery set against a time of protest and progress in America, opening following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It's not the sort of book that I am likely to write. At least right now. I write mysteries, just not historical mysteries. My Moreau Society series is science fiction. My C. Auguste Dupin mysteries are cozy stories with a cat as the detective. I might write historical mysteries someday. If I do, I'd love to write something so amazing.

Project Pope by Clifford D. Simak



"Robot believers at the far end of the galaxy endeavor to create a true religion, but their efforts could be shattered by a shocking revelation.

Project Pope highlights many of the themes and concepts found in Simak's work. I reread this book not all that long ago and enjoyed revisiting the characters and the questions raised by this story.

Cujo by Stephen King



I love Stephen King's work. I've gone back and reread his books. In Cujo, King creates a character, a monster, that sticks in popular culture alongside other horror movie creatures. The book shows off King's talents for creating characters and intense situations. It isn't the easiest book to read, it hits a bunch of triggers for me as a parent and as a pet-owner. It's also hard to put down, hard to get away from once you've started reading.

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Ryan M. Williams lives a double life as a full-time career librarian and a multi-genre writer with over twenty books. He writes across a range of genres including science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, horror, and romance. He earned a Master of Arts degree in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University and a Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose University. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine.

Ryan M. Williams

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