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Old 01-13-2013, 12:40 AM   #1
DanielaTorre
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Exclamation Help me punctuate this!

Been months and I still can't figure out how to properly punctuate the following couple of sentences. It's infuriating. Please help me, and if possible (not obligatory) briefly explain why. I'd like to learn for future reference. That way if I run into another conundrum, I'd know what to do.

Thanks in advance!!

Theodore shoved them through a maroon-colored door at the very top and into a round room filled with far stranger sights than those downstairs. In one corner (if round rooms could have corners) were chalk-smeared blackboards filled with insanely complicated mathematics; in another, bottles and jars filled with chemicals. And in the middle of it all, spread out on several tables, were designs and drawings of half-built gadgets that would soon serve some purpose.
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Last edited by DanielaTorre; 01-13-2013 at 01:24 AM. Reason: sorry. it's supposed to say "would soon serve some" Should have copy pasted.
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Old 01-13-2013, 12:59 AM   #2
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I would only change the chemicals. And tochemicals; and. Many people would cringe at this, but serial semicolons are not incorrect, and using them that way makes more sense than starting a sentence with Ans..If I wrote this, then I would rephrase much of it, but it seems to be your style. If it suits you, then you might want to cut it into several short sentences, but I understand the style.
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Old 01-13-2013, 01:04 AM   #3
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Sorry that this goes past punctuation. Another critique partner or editor might offer completely different suggestions, but with no other references, these would be my suggestions after a first read:


Theodore shoved them through a maroon-colored [Delete colored. We know maroon is a color.] door at the very top and into a round room filled with far stranger sights than those downstairs. In one [space] corner [Trade space for corner and delete "if round rooms could have corners." I’d save the cat looking for a corner in the round room for after the setting.] were chalk-smeared blackboards filled with insanely complicated mathematics; in another [sat] bottles and jars filled with chemicals. ["sat" or another verb is needed to form a main clause here; otherwise, a semicolon won’t work.] And [Delete "And"] [I]n the middle of it all, spread out on several tables, were designs and drawings of half-built gadgets that were soon [Swap the last three words for aching or waiting.] to serve some purpose.

Last edited by Chase; 01-13-2013 at 01:10 AM. Reason: My strike-outs didn't show
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Old 01-13-2013, 01:28 AM   #4
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First, the semi-colon should be a comma. or, probably better, the description of the blackboards and chemicals should be broken into two separate sentences. Aside from that, I don't see a punctuation problem. But there's a lot of confusing and/or meaningless verbiage:

"Theodore shoved them through a maroon-colored door". So he broke down the door by shoving them through it? Or did he just open the door and push them inside? (I'm assuming you're talking of other people, but that's a context matter). "Maroon-colored". What, other than colored, could you mean by "maroon"? What does the color of the door matter, in these circumstances? For that matter, why even mention the door, unless there's some story reason to do so. Whenever you go into another room, you generally do it via a door. Now, if he transported them into the room through the wall, that would be worth describing.

In the second sentence, the whole business about "in one corner (if round rooms could have corners)" just doesn't work for the most obvious of reasons: round rooms don't have corners. The focus of the sentence is on the blackboards, and the description of those could be greatly simplified: Inside were blackboards chalked with insanely-complicated mathematics.. "Smeared" doesn't seem quite the right verb, because that implies, well, smeared, rather than readable.

They just entered the room to be confronted with all this stuff. Evidently no one else is present in the room. How is the room lit? Did they have to turn on lights, or did they carry their own? How do they know the bottles and jars are filled with chemicals?

I'd lose the entire "that were soon to serve some purpose" phrase. It's superfluous. They wouldn't be there if they didn't have an intended purpose. As for "designs and drawings of half-built gadgets", nobody designs a half-built gadget. If there are no actual gadgets, nothing has been built. And you're not going to recognize these as drawings and designs right away. All you'll see up front is papers spread out on the tables. You have to make a closer examination to determine what's on them.

And there are a lot of "weres". None of those are used incorrectly, but a bit of verb variation would be helpful, and there are simple replacements, like "stood" to describe the blackboards.

In short, you're trying to cram way too much detail into this paragraph, and it loses it's intended meaning under the weight and confusion of the presentation. That's why you feel there's a punctuation problem, I suspect.

Try this: Become Theodore, act out the entering of the room, and the discovery of these strange, surprising objects. What do you see first? What do you discover by closer examination? How do you discover things, like the jars holding chemicals? The nature of the drawings?

In exploring a strange room like this, these characters are going to use some deliberation to figure things out. Render that process in your narration. Don't hurry. Don't try to cram everything into a dense knot of turgid sentences. Periods are not precious. The universe contains an unlimited supply of them.

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Old 01-13-2013, 01:46 AM   #5
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Duly noted. Thank you everyone. I shall return to the batcave and consider my course of action.

ETA: I think part of the problem I'm having is that my characters just entered a strange store with strange things they've never seen before. I go on in detail about it. Moments later, they're being hurried upstairs and go into yet another place they've never seen before. It's equally unusual. So I find myself trying to save time by summarizing. I don't want the whole chapter to be pure world building and description. So there you have my failed attempt.
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Old 01-13-2013, 01:48 AM   #6
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Duly noted. Thank you[,] everyone. I shall return to the batcave and consider [brood about] my course of action.
Just funnin'. Thanks for letting us play with your words.
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Old 01-13-2013, 01:57 AM   #7
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Just funnin' pulling your leg. Thanks for letting us play with your words go off-topic.

Doesn't feel so good, does it meanie!?

(Though I see the irony, as I did this same exact thing to someone else in another thread. Oh, bitter irony.)
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Old 01-13-2013, 02:02 AM   #8
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Touché, but leg-pulling actually feels good. It's far too unappreciated in grammar give and take.
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Old 01-13-2013, 02:21 AM   #9
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Touché, but leg-pulling actually feels good. It's far too unappreciated in grammar give and take.
Grammar nazis unite! to fix my writing
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Old 01-13-2013, 02:23 AM   #10
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Regarding the OP: it's already punctuated. You don't have to change anything. Semi-colon's fine. And since it's fiction and not a dissertation, I don't mind a sentence starting with "And".

I would change "insanely", or just drop it. I weary of seeing that word used to mean "very".
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Old 01-13-2013, 02:56 AM   #11
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Semi-colon's fine.
Nope, both Blacbird's advice and mine are correct. A semicolon has to separate main clauses. The sentence in question had only one main clause.
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Old 01-13-2013, 06:39 AM   #12
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I think part of the problem I'm having is that my characters just entered a strange store with strange things they've never seen before. I go on in detail about it. Moments later, they're being hurried upstairs and go into yet another place they've never seen before. It's equally unusual. So I find myself trying to save time by summarizing. I don't want the whole chapter to be pure world building and description. So there you have my failed attempt.
Ah, but: Here you have an inherently interesting scene, or at least one that should be inherently interesting. I don't see this as "world-building". You have characters acting in a situation that baffles them. Or should baffle them. Let it baffle them a bit; let it baffle the reader a bit, too.

Another potential problem here is point-of-view. From this brief excerpt, I don't know what it is. But if it is limited-third (Theodore your POV character, maybe?), you must reveal things through what he can experience. That constitutes my main observation about the scene. Far too much information is just flung at the reader, in a way I can't imagine the characters actually experiencing.

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Old 01-13-2013, 07:02 AM   #13
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Ah, but: Here you have an inherently interesting scene, or at least one that should be inherently interesting. I don't see this as "world-building". You have characters acting in a situation that baffles them. Or should baffle them. Let it baffle them a bit; let it baffle the reader a bit, too.

Another potential problem here is point-of-view. From this brief excerpt, I don't know what it is. But if it is limited-third (Theodore your POV character, maybe?), you must reveal things through what he can experience. That constitutes my main observation about the scene. Far too much information is just flung at the reader, in a way I can't imagine the characters actually experiencing.

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Nope. The POV is the one of the kids he's pushing through the door. I had already set up that it smelled like "rotten eggs" when he came into the shop and after this paragraph, it's revealed what was causing the nasty smell. So there's one experience. And then after another short scene description, my MC's exacts thoughts are: David felt strangely as though he’d entered a mad scientist lab.

I don't want to drown the reader with scenery overload. That's why I tried to summarize the paragraph. OH. It's MG, thought you ought to know. If that makes any difference, of course.
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Old 01-13-2013, 03:34 PM   #14
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The POV issue may well be where the solution to this paragraph situation lies, Daniella. Changing its punctuation is not a major issue to my eye.

If you truly write what the POV character is experiencing it can not be scenery overload. At present the view of the room seems to be more your observations than those of the POV character, especially with the observation as to 'half-built and soon serve some purpose'.

I hope David is not the POV character. How can the POV character's exact thoughts be - David felt strangeley....?

Paragraphs out of context are tricky for third parties to deal with because only the poster knows the correct context.

I'm confused by your references to POV of one of the kids, then MC, then David - are you writing in third person limited POV or in omniscient POV?

Good luck.
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Old 01-13-2013, 07:49 PM   #15
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The POV issue may well be where the solution to this paragraph situation lies, Daniella. Changing its punctuation is not a major issue to my eye.

If you truly write what the POV character is experiencing it can not be scenery overload. At present the view of the room seems to be more your observations than those of the POV character, especially with the observation as to 'half-built and soon serve some purpose'.

I hope David is not the POV character. How can the POV character's exact thoughts be - David felt strangeley....?

Paragraphs out of context are tricky for third parties to deal with because only the poster knows the correct context.

I'm confused by your references to POV of one of the kids, then MC, then David - are you writing in third person limited POV or in omniscient POV?

Good luck.
I'm sorry. I wasn't clear. One of the kids being pushed through the door is the MC, David. It's his POV. Whoa, way to confuse the hell out of myself and others, Daniela. That explanation was all over the place. LOL.

Bufty, this isn't the first time you in particular call attention to POV in my work. Hmm. I suppose it's time that I buckle down and start working on it. Always room for improvement. Thanks again.
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Old 01-20-2013, 12:26 AM   #16
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Newbie chiming in here, so take it for what it's worth.

As far as punctuation goes, the only thing technically incorrect is the semicolon. They are primarily used to join two independent clauses. Your choices would be to add a verb, as has been suggested, or to just use a comma.
I echo some of what was said about the parenthetical. They can be visually jarring. In this case you might consider using "space" or "area" instead of "corner."

Sentence structure and punctuation have a lot to do with the tone you are trying to convey. If what you are after is a kind of visual overload for your character, tossing out a bunch of long descriptive sentences is just the trick. The reader can feel the same overwhelming sensation as the character. From what you have said, I get that that is what you are doing. Works for me.

I agree with the "color" comment and the reworking of the last bit about the future purpose of the gadgets on the tables. The future state of these things would be outside the knowledge of the character. You might consider reworking that.

The scene seems intriguing. Best of luck.
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Old 01-23-2013, 02:32 PM   #17
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Difficulty with punctuation can often be a signal that deeper problems exist.
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Old 01-24-2013, 08:53 AM   #18
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Difficulty with punctuation can often be a signal that deeper problems exist.
THIS X 1000. Even when the punctuation is technically correct, if you stumble over a sentence, chances are it can be improved via rephrasing. I overwrite and get wordy in first drafts, and long ago learned that the simplest way to deal with clumsy, uncertain sentences is just to rewrite them to make them better. Don't waste time trying to "fix" discomfort with punctuation. Look at the subject material more carefully and see if you can't rephrase to make everything clearer.

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