In The Punctuation Marks Loved (and Hated) by Famous Writers, Emily Temple relays a range of opinions from writers such as Tom Wolfe, Elmore Leonard, and Ursula K. Le Guin on periods, semicolons, hyphens and more.
Listens to the sound of the sentence, and is always right, Bob: Toni Morrison[On her editor, Bob Gottlieb, who famously “was always inserting commas into Morrison’s sentences and she was always taking them out”] We read the same way. We think the same way. He is overwhelmingly aggressive about commas and all sorts of things. He does not understand that commas are for pauses and breath. He thinks commas are for grammatical things. We have come to an understanding, but it is still a fight.
Tolerates it, if he must: Cormac McCarthy
I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.
James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.
My own prose tends towards longer sentences, often sprinkled with dashes, parentheses, and semicolons.
Since 2004, I’ve adapted all of James Joyce’s Ulysses for staged readings by the Wild Geese Players of Seattle, and I’m in the Morrison camp, not the McCarthy–Joyce one.
Paragraphs like these work on the printed page. (More or less.)
The tear is bloody near your eye. Talking through his bloody hat. Fitter for him go home to the little sleepwalking bitch he married, Mooney, the bumbailiff’s daughter, mother kept a kip in Hardwicke street, that used to be stravaging about the landings Bantam Lyons told me that was stopping there at two in the morning without a stitch on her, exposing her person, open to all comers, fair field and no favour.
—Anonymous narrator, Episode 12, “Cyclops”, L400
Martin Cunningham forgot to give us his spellingbee conundrum this morning. It is amusing to view the unpar one ar alleled embarra two ars is it? double ess ment of a harassed pedlar while gauging au the symmetry with a y of a peeled pear under a cemetery wall. Silly, isn’t it? Cemetery put in of course on account of the symmetry.
—Mr Bloom, Episode 7, “Aeolus”, L170
But imagine trying to read those sentences aloud during a performance and bring the sense of the text to the audience.
As an aide to my performers, I’ve introduced “cadence bars” (denoted by ‘≀’) to the scripts to augment Joyce’s sparse punctuation and to bring out the individual fragments.
The tear is bloody near your eye. Talking through his bloody hat. Fitter for him go home ≀ to the little sleepwalking bitch he married, Mooney, the bum·bailiff’s daughter, mother kept a kip in Hardwicke street, that used to be stravaging about the landings ≀ Bantam Lyons told me ≀ that was stopping there at two in the morning ≀ without a stitch on her, exposing her person, open to all comers, fair field and no favour.
Martin Cunningham forgot to give us his spelling·bee conundrum this morning. It is amusing to view the ≀ unpar ≀ one ar ≀ alleled ≀ embarra ≀ two ars is it? ≀ double ess ≀ ment ≀ of a harassed pedlar ≀ while gauging ≀ au ≀ the symmetry ≀ with a y ≀ of a peeled pear ≀ under a cemetery wall. Silly, isn’t it? Cemetery put in of course ≀ on account of the symmetry.
I’ve also added some pseudo-hyphens (bum·bailiff, spelling·bee, what·do·you·call·him) to counteract Joyce’s Germanic habit of stringing several words into one.
This seems to help, though some of our readers have to fight a tendency to pause too much when they encounter a ‘≀’ symbol.