Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Please Punctuate!

Today's post has less to do with gaming, and more about writing. In fact, it's all about writing. So unless you're really interested in the English language, grammar, and punctuation, now's a good time to check out and we'll see you tomorrow. But hey! If you are trying to get into the gaming industry as a reviewer, or on a production team as a story developer/script writer, then stick around. This post may save your career.

English is a subject I have always been fond of. Not only for the reading aspect, and I fully admit I was one of those nerdy kids who loved getting homework assignments that involved reading, but writing as well. Developing my own thesis and defending my position through the written word is something I still get a kick out of today. I've got three degrees to back it up. My final thesis was over 250 pages long. And it wasn't to fluff the content. It needed to be done to fully develop the argument.

And over the years I have been exposed to a myriad of writing styles. Being a film student at a Baptist private university, I have seen classic religious works to television scripts and manga. Writing has transformed so much over the past decade. The rise of cell phones and texting has made way to a new genre of short-term typing. In that, we have seen a rapid change in the written word among children and young adults that better cater to their LOL and 1337 needs. Even so, there is something to be said for the centuries of writing that have been formulated to create the foundation that we have today.

Writing is fluid. It will grow and adapt to the world around it. But we can't ignore the basics. It's those rudimentary aspects that allow writing to exist, and maintain it's use in society. We need foundations. With everything! Writing has evolved for hundreds of years to become what it is now. The reasons behind the use of commas, periods, quotation marks has been scientifically studied. The too long, didn't read version (TLDR) is pretty straight forward: we have honed the written word that is pleasing to the eye and easy for people to read. Punctuation is necessary, otherwise people will tune out.

And yes, people like their periods and commas to delineate pauses in sentences. We don't speak 500 words in one breath; we pause, whether it's for emphasis or to let Oxygen into our systems.

Texting is an odd phenomenon. Back in the 90's when cell phones were becoming more common-place on the consumer market outside of executive jobs, texting had limits. Think of it as Twitter for your phone. You had only X number of characters to use for free before your phone network began to charge you for each additional character. So people began developing a new system of short-hand and 1337 speak to reduce the numbers of characters used. That also meant all forms of punctuation went out the window. This has become so ingrained in us that even today, with unlimited texting, we still forgo the punctuation and proper spelling. And even that is being replaced by emojis, pictured images that represent a word or phrase. This has spilled over into social media, Twitter and Instagram in particular come to mind. But for the most part, the decorum is to use proper punctuation and sentence structure unless there are character limits. Science backs it up.

What's the point of today's post? It's ranting and tying to understand why there is a change happening in writing classes around the globe to highlight trends that throw the rules out the window.

Yesterday my friend Meg sent me a fan fiction she wanted me to read. There was no context to the note. I don't read fan fiction often. She knows this. But I trust her point of view, so if she was sending it to me, there was a good reason behind it.

I made it about 3 sentences in before quitting. At least I think they were sentences. I couldn't tell you what the story was about, of if it was worth the read through because the lack of punctuation and spacing made it near impossible to read. The first 'paragraph' was composed or 350 words with 2 periods and dashes to designated characters speaking. The character dialogue was in the paragraph. They were not separated out into their own lines, and they talked on top of each other. It would go from one character to the next without a pause. The sentences ran together. Where there were paragraphs, there were no double spaces to indicate as such. No indents. I don't believe I saw a comma or an apostrophe.

I understand that the dashes are used in some countries instead of quote marks. And some writers use it to provide additional emphasis on words or actions to delineate the importance of the sentence. In doing so, they still showcase proper punctuation and sentence/paragraph spacing so that people can read it. They don't ignore the other basic principles of writing that allow people to read the content.

It was after that third sentence, or paragraph, that I gave up. I scrolled down the rest of the page and found the formatting to be the same throughout. There were 9 chapters into this fan fiction over the course of 8 months. I hoped that clicking on the recent chapter would show an improvement in style. Sadly, it did not.

My next instinct was to read through the comments, possibly post my own to give the writer a heads-up that if you're going to break some writing rules, you shouldn't break all of them. The reader needs to be able to still dissect your content. If they can not read it, they won't follow-through with your story. But of course, this being the internet, people had already commented with their thoughts. Only 10 comments; all referring to the difficulty of reading the story. And polite! Sometimes the internet can be a wonderful place where people provide construction criticism instead of insistent bashing. One person commented that he/she appreciated the tone of the story as well as the character development, but the writing style made it a challenge to read. This person offered suggestions to help out with the spacing, and adding more punctuation so there would be pauses in the sentences - allowing both the reader and the characters a chance to breathe.

Unfortunately the writer didn't take the words as constructive, and responded to each comment with the type of defensive tactics that one would see with politicians. The writer apparently was taught how to write like that in school, and their way is correct. How dare we question their ability to write!

When I got back to Meg, I asked her if she sent me the fan fiction as a joke. (For the sanity of the "author" I'm not going to link the story.) Meg was 100% serious and wanted to know my initial reaction to it.

"I wanted to bang my head against the keyboard with every word for the lack of spacing and punctuation. Maybe doing that, I could add a few more commas and periods to the story."

After that, we had an interesting debate about the changing language of writing. Make no mistake. Writing is moving into the digital era with a loud thud that is rattling the cages of scholars and authors. But to outright ignore the foundations would be literary death. If the author of the fan fiction truly was taught how to write in that manner, we need to put an end to that teacher's madness. He/she has set that writer up for failure in life by not being able to write a clear sentence.

We are at an odd time where we need to learn more then on written language to communicate. And that's okay! Learning how to text, comment on social media, and write a thesis are all important aspects of life today. They allow us to stay in touch with friends and family while securing jobs as adults. All are equally important. It's no different then being bi-lingual, when you get to the nuts and bolts of it. But there is a time and a place for it. Texting should never, never, never take place in a short story, paper, or any type of work where people, en mass, are reading it. Ever. If you were to write in 1337 speak for a movie/TV/game script, you would be laughed out of the room. Scripts, in general, are different from novels as they utilize capitalization to designate settings and character names. They also do some very interesting formatting where dialogue is centered and in tight margins. This is done to ease the reading and to limit the pages to a minute, i.e. one page equals one minute. If you have an 80 page script, that's an 80 minute movie. Even so, you'll find that every one of these scripts still maintains the basic principles of writing to ensure people can read the content. They don't ignore or disobey all of the rules due to the unique format.

Proper spelling, grammar, punctuation are all important - no matter what you do in life. It's okay to embrace the changes in society with technology, but we shouldn't do so at the expense of the written word. Please continue to use those punctuation marks. Or people will stop reading and it will be a disaster.

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