ClunkingA Lesson by The Perfectionist
A writing problem that is becoming all too common.
I invented the term 'clunking' last year to describe the way my girlfriend was writing at the time. Since then, I have noticed it more and more in other people's writing, and as such, I shall do my best to make this aware to the public at large so that the infection may be stopped before it spreads further.
First, a definition:
Clunking: Writing in short, stocky sentences that contain few to no commas or semi-colons and often have repetitive beginnings.
Here's an example, stolen from a story I reviewed today:
"It was cold outside. It was like standing in a freezer. I began to wish that I had brought a jacket with me."
You can almost hear the clunk as each sentence plops itself down after the previous one. You could make that into one sentence with a bit of creative grammar, and at the very most it should be two.
I'm still not sure exactly what causes clunking, but I've noticed a few common trends in people who clunk.
1. Misuse of commas
Not everyone knows how to use a semi-colon, and while everyone really SHOULD, that one can be forgiven. Everyone, on the other hand, should know how to use commas and periods. They are the two most common punctuation marks in written English. Yet while most people understand what a period is for, a comma is lost on them.
People who clunk often miss commas when they need them and have commas where they don't. Research is good, but if nothing else, remember this: a comma creates a pause in the sentence; if you don't want a pause, don't have a comma.
2. Absence of semi-colons
Semi-colons are one of the least used punctuation marks in English, which is a shame because they are very useful grammatically. Again I encourage you to look them up, but the lazy man's definition is that a semi-colon is used to join two related but unconnected ideas.
Here's an example from one of my own works:
"It showed in his appearance; no longer did he have circles under his eyes or was he unable to stay awake for more than two hours at a time."
A comma here would be incorrect. The phrase "no longer did he have circles under his eyes or was he unable to stay awake for more than two hours at a time." is a complete phrase on its own, not part of the previous sentence. Yet, it is related to the first phrase, so a period isn't necessarily right either.
If you catch clunking, point it out. If you see it in yourself, fix it. Remember, punctuation is the antidote to clunking. Here's a little guide to send you on your way.
Comma = short pause
Semi-colon = long pause with two related phrases (the second often elaborates on or explains the first)
Period = Break between two separate phrases
Added on May 3, 2010
Last Updated on May 3, 2010
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