The use of punctuation in Cinemagraphic Writing differs slightly from the Traditional use. Let’s review the basics of punctuation.
- Used at the end of a declarative sentence (statement): It is sunny outside today.
- Also used at the end of an imperative sentence (command/request): Go to the safe house.
Question Mark: (?)
- Used at the end of an interrogative sentence (question): Did you see that lightning?
Exclamation Mark: (!)
- Used at the end of an exclamatory sentence (exclamation): That thunder shook the house!
- Used before lists or to illustrate a point in casual works of writing: He had three reasons not to go outside: rain, lightning, and thunder.
- Used in place of a period to link two sentences together that are closely related: The rain lasted all day; Harry wondered if it would ever stop.
- Used with a conjunction to combine two sentences: The rain lasted all day, and Harry wondered if it would ever stop.
- Also used to separate dependent clauses within a sentence: Finally Susan, who had gone shopping for shoes and got stuck in the rain, came home. Another example at the beginning of the sentence: Not wanting to get wet, Susan raced to the house.
- It is also used before or after directly addressing someone in dialogue, (before) “Hi, Susan!” and (after) “Where have you been, Susan?”
There are numerous other ways commas are used, but let’s continue.
- Used to show a pause in thought or dialogue: “It was raining…you know I don’t like the lightning.”
- Also useful to show the trailing off of something being said. “I waited for the storm to stop…”
- Used to show interruption in dialogue: “Don’t you understand—”
- Used to separate dependent clauses within a sentence: Finally Susan—who had gone shopping for shoes and got stuck in the rain—came home.
- Connects fragments to the original thought without losing its impact: The rain stopped—finally.
- It might have the strength to replace semicolons: The rain lasted all day—Harry wondered if it would ever stop.
I would go into detail on every one of these, but there are some things to say about a few of them.
The comma has always been difficult to master. “Put a comma where you breathe,” it’s been said, but that’s not true. My mother, who is an expert with English, does voiceover, and her coaches tell her repeatedly, “Ignore the commas. Don’t read it like an English teacher. Just read it like you’re talking.” Commas have a distinct purpose as I listed above. Be sure you know where you put the commas and why.
The ellipsis is frowned upon and viewed as a distraction. I used to use this all the time until someone pointed it out to me. At first I took offense, but then I went back and realized they were right. “But I want those pauses in the passage!” I struggled with this and to came three conclusions:
1) Ellipsis are acceptable in any death scene.
2) They are also acceptable if there is a stutter or hesitation in dialogue: “I…I don’t know what happened!”
3) Dashes are just as efficient—if not better—for pauses. Consider this: The rain stopped…finally. And now this: The rain stopped—finally.
If it is not a death scene, but there is a noticeable pause in something being said, consider closing the quote with a comma and then quotation marks. Outside of the dialogue, add a small physical action soon followed by the rest of the quote: Change “You weren’t there…you didn’t see what happened.” to this: “You weren’t there,” Susan shook her head, “You didn’t see what happened.” The physical action naturally provides a pause as well as paints a clearer picture to the scene.
The dash is useful if you don’t know what punctuation to use—comma, semicolon, etc. When they are in the middle of the sentence locking in a dependent clause, it keeps the original thought on track and easy to remember because all you have to do is go back to before the first dash to recall the subject and jump over to what’s at the end of the last dash to complete the thought. For example:
Finally Susan—who had gone shopping for shoes and got stuck in the rain—came home.
The middle of that sentence ‘who had gone shopping for shoes and got stuck in the rain’ has a dash on either side of it. Take out that middle part, and it reads, ‘Finally Susan came home.’ Still a complete sentence which makes sense independently, but the middle part is added to give more detail without interrupting the flow.
During a conversation, someone might be interrupted or simply trail off. The punctuation will be different depending on which it is. If it is a sharp interruption or someone being cut off from speaking, the sentence would end with a dash:
Interruption: “You don’t know what you’re talking about—”
But if the person speaking merely trails off and stops talking, an ellipsis will be used:
Trailing off: “You don’t know what you’re talking about…”
It all depends on the conversation.
The dash has a sharp edge to it and can add the extra little punch or pause to a sentence. It offers a precise tone for the conversation or narrative, which cannot be done with a comma or an ellipsis. So, experiment with the dash. You might be surprised.