Happy Little Keys.

There are many ways to paint a picture. Georges Seurat (1859-1891) often used brush strokes in a technique called pointillism.


The modernist painting (below) by Tom Sulcer, using a technique similar to that of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), employs the same colors that Seurat used, but the message it communicates is entirely different.


Bob Ross (1942-1995), another realist painter like Andrew Wyeth (and whom the avantgarde also loved to hate), didn’t always paint his pictures with the kind of tool you’d expect to see in the hand of an Artist. Sometimes his brush looked like a house-painter’s brush. Sometimes it wasn’t a brush, at all: it was a knife. Bob Ross was known for his ability to produce a completed landscape painting in fewer than 30 minutes, and for his use of “happy little trees,” to punctuate his pictures.

Writers are ArtisColonts who paint invisible pictures inside their readers’ heads. Our paint is colored by the pigments of words, carried in grammar that’s applied by tools that use strokes in a variety of shapes and techniques collectively known as punctuation.

SemicolonRule #3 of The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing stipulates the use of sufficient correct punctuation for signage on the path to meaning. Punctuation is what makes the good grammar that carries our excellently spelled words to flow from our pages into our readers’ minds.

Exclamation_mark“Sufficient” punctuation is slightly more flexible than “good” grammar. There are times when punctuation is required, to form things like correctly spelled possessives and contractions, and to set off other grammatical elements, such as dialogue, questions, exclamations, parenthetical expressions and dependent clauses, in order for meaning to be clear.

CommaAt other times, punctuation serves an artistic function of its own, by its contribution to the appearance of the text on the page. In these cases, formatting such as italics, bold or “strong” characters, and occasionally UPPER-CASE letters, along with the use of alternate forms of punctuation can paint a different sort of picture.

Simple_icon_ellipsis.svgFor example, in Irish Firebrands, I used italics to show rumination (unspoken thoughts), and en-dashes, ellipses and fewer commas, to communicate the mental states of the main characters. The result was a technique that, until recently, I hadn’t even known had a name of its own: “deep 3rd-person point-of-view.”

Eats-Shoots-LeavesAll general grammars will teach about punctuation, but a good resource to specifically review it is this book. The author is an entertaining writer whose examples of punctuation use and abuse can help clear up many misunderstandings about those ink-spots that can dramatically affect the meaning and effectiveness of written communication.

The power of punctuation.

Authors, like Painters and Sculptors, are Artists who specialize in a form of visual communication, but most of our visual art can only be seen by the mind’s eye. Whether the tools we use to produce our Art are pencils, pens, or Happy Little Keys, how we punctuate our words and grammar will make a difference in how clearly our stories will convey their invisible images from our minds, to the minds of our readers.



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8 responses to “Happy Little Keys.

  1. Each time I’m able to punctuate, knowing why I chose the mark I chose to make my thought clearer, I feel liberated. Much the same as a painter who automatically knows what brush he wants to use at some point in his work. There is freedom in understanding the rules, for once understood, they can be used, or broken to great purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You betcha! Functional illiterates in any language (meaning me, in French, Spanish, German and Gaeilge) can just barely get by without knowing if they’re reading or writing misspelled words or bad grammar. But the punctuation that’s clustered near the periphery of our keyboards is really central to accurate communication. Without punctuation, one popular example phrase doesn’t say whether we’re anticipating a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, or an ancestor-assimilation event amongst cannibals. The Happy Little Keys save our communicating necks.


  2. Thanks for the like yesterday. Let me know when you see where I can improve.


  3. Christine, I just love this post! I love how you bring awareness to writing being an art, and I particularly love your Happy Little Trees – Happy Little Keys wordplay. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Writers who use lack of punctuation to make their products enigmatic deserve, in my opinion, not praise but a kick in the pants. If they do not have a precise meaning to convey, and the ability to convey it with all tools available, then they shouldn’t be writing at all.

    Liked by 1 person

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