To Punctuate Or Not To Punctuate

Ape-man-with-bone-from-Stanley-Kubricks-2001-A-Space-Odyssey

 

There’s an immediate irony to this piece in that its title lacks punctuation. Said punctuation is not missed, of course—it’d be superfluous of me to put a period, due to the fact that the title text being larger and bolder than the long column of text below it makes it feel plenty contained. The only reason for me to put a little black dot at the end of it would be if I wanted it to be read with stern inflection:

To Punctuate Or Not To Punctuate.

See the difference? You can’t help but it read it in your head as though shit has just gotten real, and that this will be a seriouser-than-normal article where I’ve got a real bone to pick with a thing. Such is not the case—if anything, I’m merely raising a bone to the sky a la that ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While writing my new feature film, Bed, I had an epiphany. This is a screenplay I am essentially writing for only three people to read: myself, and the two cast members. We’re the only people involved in the making of it—it is not being shopped around whatsoever, I don’t need to convince anyone to ‘let’ me make it, I don’t need anyone’s ‘permission’ or ‘money’—after they learn their lines and are ready, we’re shooting it, plain and simple.

Therefore, there’s no real need for me to conform to the rules of writing a screenplay, such as proper formatting and punctuation—you know, the things that make you not look like a total amateur to those with power. I could write this film in magic marker on a hooker’s ass if I wanted—as long as the cast was cool with it, there’d be no problem.

Formatting, I don’t want to fuck around with though—I find the standard screenplay format to be purposeful and easy to read. I have no desire to exhibit heresy in that particular sphere. Punctuation, on the other hand—well, that might be a fun sacred cow to tip over.

The internet has swung open huge doors as far as the english language is concerned. It’s become perfectly acceptable for people to converse without capitals or punctuation marks—or even all caps, and tons of punctuation marks. We implicitly understand that such behavior is a reflection not of lack of intelligence, but lack of stuffy formality. It’s casual speak, suited for friends or for those who wish to telegraph to the world that they are speaking candidly and without filter.

why not then write the dialogue of a character who casually speaks their mind at all times in all lowercase, with no periods or whatever

Leave the periods at the end of sentences for characters that talk like Daria. That’d be helpful.

AND WHY NOT WRITE AN ANGRY DUMB CHARACTER IN ALL CAPS AND LOTS OF PUNCTUATION!!!!!!!!

OR EVEN NO PUNCTUATION AT ALL LIKE TARZAN THE APE MAN

Those are just a few examples—the possibilities are endless. Such a thing would really help the actors read the dialogue in their head as it is intended to be delivered—and help the writer get into the heads of the characters while writing them.

I’m going to experiment with it in my own scripts—you do so too, and let me know how it works for you.

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2 Responses to To Punctuate Or Not To Punctuate

  1. Brad says:

    A few months ago, I went on a kick reading a lot of Alt Lit authors like Tao Lin, Steve Roggenbuck, and Marie Calloway. One thing that attracted me was their willingness to experiment with style and capitalization. A story written without capitalization really does add a bit of a strangeness to the voice, and I’ve been experimenting with it myself since.

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