Punctuate This

Improve Your Writing With The “Punctuate This” Challenge

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

 

Exercise

i took his hand his long fingers curved over the back of my hand we began walking, his hand very still in mine i could feel the pulse in my hand against his skin his pulse began to speed up to match mine i could feel his blood flow like a second heart have you fed tonight my voice sounded soft can you not tell i can never tell with you i saw him smile out of the corner of my eye i am flattered you never answered my question no he said no you havent answered me or no you havent fed he turned his head to me as we walked sweat gleamed on his upper lip what do you think ma petite his voice was the softest of whispers

 

Original

I took his hand. His long fingers curved over the back of my hand. We began walking, his hand very still in mine. I could feel the pulse in my hand against his skin. His pulse began to speed up to match mine. I could feel his blood flow like a second heart.

“Have you fed tonight?” my voice sounded soft.

“Can you not tell?”

“I can never tell with you.”

I saw him smile out of the corner of my eye. “I am flattered.”

“You never answered my question.”

“No,” he said.

“No, you haven't answered me, or no, you haven't fed?”

He turned his head to me, as we walked. Sweat gleamed on his upper lip. “What do you think, ma petite?” His voice was the softest of whispers.

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

 

Exercise

as she woke up in the pod she remembered three things first she was traveling through open space second she was about to start a new job one she could not screw up third she had bribed a government official into giving her a new identity file none of this information was new but it wasnt pleasant to wake up to she wasnt supposed to be awake yet not for another day at least but that was what you got for booking cheap transport cheap transport meant a cheap pod flying on cheap fuel and cheap drugs to knock you out she had flickered into consciousness several times since launch surfacing in confusion falling back just as shed gotten a grasp on things the pod was dark and there were no navigational screens there was no way to tell how much time had passed between each waking or how far shed traveled or if shed even been traveling at all the thought made her anxious and sick

 

Original

As she woke up in the pod, she remembered three things. First, she was traveling through open space. Second, she was about to start a new job, one she could not screw up. Third, she had bribed a government official into giving her a new identity file. None of this information was new, but it wasn't particularly pleasant to wake up to.

She wasn't supposed to be awake yet, not for another day at least, but that was what you got for booking cheap transport. Cheap transport meant a cheap pod flying on cheap fuel, and cheap drugs to knock you out. She had flickered into consciousness several times since launch—surfacing in confusion, falling back just as she'd gotten a grasp on things. The pod was dark, and there was no way to tell how much time had passed between each waking, or how far she'd traveled, or if she'd even been traveling at all. The thought made her anxious, and sick.

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

 

Exercise

the rioting is finally over and the fires have burned out washington dc is a blackened ruin and so are the west and south sides of chicago pittsburgh newark hartford and trenton have all suffered serious damage so have many other cities jimmy and i drive the green oldsmobile that belonged to henrys church and listen to the news we hardly speak to each other any more there isnt much to say martin luther king jr is dead assassinated in our home town in our neighborhood and both jimmy and i played small roles in his death inadvertent roles of course but roles nonetheless

 

Original

The rioting is finally over, and the fires have burned out. Washington, D.C., is a blackened ruin, and so are the west and south sides of Chicago. Pittsburgh, Newark, Hartford, and Trenton have all suffered serious damage. So have many other major cities.

Jimmy and I drive the green Oldsmobile that belonged to Henry's church and listen to the news. We hardly speak to each other any more. There isn't much to say. Martin Luther King, Jr., is dead, assassinated in our home town, in our neighborhood, and both Jimmy and I played small roles in his death. Inadvertent roles, of course, but roles nonetheless.

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

 

Exercise

thomas decker was half an hour from home when whisperer stopped him in his tracks decker said whisperer speaking inside deckers mind decker now ill get you this time i will get you decker swiveled about on the game trail he had been following his rifle raised held away from his body ready to snap to his shoulder against the first sign of danger there was nothing in sight nothing stirring the heavy growth of trees and brush came down close against the trail on either side it all hung motionless there was not the slightest breeze, no flicker of a bird there was absolutely nothing everything was frozen as if eternity had clamped down decker

 

Original

Thomas Decker was half an hour from home when Whisperer stopped him in his tracks.

—Decker, said Whisperer, speaking inside Decker's mind. Decker, now I'll get you. This time I will get you.

Decker swiveled about on the game trail he had been following, his rifle raised, held away from his body, ready to snap to his shoulder against the first sign of danger.

There was nothing in sight, nothing stirring. The heavy growth of trees and brush came down close against the trail on either side. It all hung motionless. There was not the slightest breeze, no flicker of a bird. There was absolutely nothing. Everything was frozen, as if eternity had clamped down.

—Decker!

“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

 

Exercise

he heard its purring growl he smelled its sweet carrion breath tad trenton clapped his hands to his eyes hitched in breath and screamed a muttered exclamation in another room his father a scared cry of what was that from the same room his mother their footfalls running as they came in he peered through his fingers and saw it there in the closet snarling promising dreadfully that they might come but they would surely go and that when they did the light went on vic and donna trenton came to his bed exchanging a look of concern over his chalky face and his staring eyes and his mother said no snapped i told you three hot dogs was too many vic and then his daddy was on the bed daddys arm around his back asking him what was wrong tad dared to look into the mouth of his closet again the monster was gone instead of whatever hungry beast he had seen there were two uneven piles of blankets winter bedclothes which donna had not yet gotten around to taking up to the cut off third floor

 

Original

He heard its purring growl; he smelled its sweet carrion breath.

Tad Trenton clapped his hands to his eyes, hitched in breath, and screamed.

A muttered exclamation in another room—his father.

A scared cry of “What was that?” from the same room—his mother.

Their footfalls, running. As they came in, he peered through his fingers and saw it there in the closet, snarling, promising dreadfully that they might come, but they would surely go, and that when they did—

The light went on. Vic and Donna Trenton came to his bed, exchanging a look of concern over his chalky face and his staring eyes, and his mother said—no, snapped, “I told you three hot dogs was too many, Vic!”

And then his daddy was on the bed, Daddy's arm around his back, asking him what was wrong.

Tad dared to look into the mouth of the closet again.

The monster was gone. Instead of whatever hungry beast he had seen, there were two uneven piles of blankets, winter bedclothes which Donna had not yet gotten around to taking up to the cut-off third floor.

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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