Non-verbal communication and establishing characters through creative grammar? Or… something…

SO, this is something I get a lot of crap for at times. People learn the rules of grammar, but they don’t understand the application. In academic writing, yes, follow the rules strictly. But when it comes to creative writing, grammar takes on a separate role. This is something a few authors have discussed. I’m not sure how popular the school of thought is but I embrace it.

Grammar is used to represent non-explicit moments. For example, I put a comma right here (after “For example”) so that you know to take a pause. The reader can see that and think Oh, clause over. This section tells me the following statement is just an example and not necessarily anything more. The comma also separates clauses. This is independent clause A, (pause) and this is independent clause B. What’s the point? The comma indicates the relationship of the statements around it. But, it also creates a pause (like a breath or bow-lift mark, for those who are musically inclined).

What does this have to do with non-verbal communication in creative writing? you can use the comma to emphasize where a character takes a beat. The character could say “This is cool, but there are a few structural issues and it may not funnel energy properly.” Or, he might say “This is cool but, there are a few structural issues and it may not funnel energy properly.” In the first version, the two clauses feel equally important. They have the same emphasis they would as two separate sentences. By shifting the comma, you move all of the emphasis to “but.” In essence you are saying “Clause A is relevant but, clause b is more important.”

There are more common practices for this. Generally, you would see “Clause A… but, clause B.” maintaining the clauses’ unique emphatics but, also rendering the conjunction ultimately purposeless and redundant at best. The way I have seen which I like is “Clause A, but… clause B.” This puts the most emphasis on the conjunction by utilizing the comma at the end of clause A to show a beat and adding ellipses to show that there is a moment of thought or reflection going into clause B.

Why do I just use the comma? Well, I suppose it’s a mild influence from the way Brits speak. “Clause A but, Clause B.” is similar to “Clause A but… Clause B.” The difference being the amount of pause. In the latter, the speaker is saying that they have a point to make that they need a moment to think on (for wording, emotion, whatever reason). Conversely, the former says that speaker has a counterpoint to the first point and they want you to pay attention to it. It’s like a way of killing the confirmation bias (Where the partner would hear clause A agreeing with them and disregard clause B).

Is it grammatically correct? No. But, it’s another way of establishing speech patterns, internal thinking, and general character. Is there a perfect way to prescribe and use this style? Not really. The grammatically correct thing to do would be to put ellipses there. The problem is, if you have a character who does this a lot, you get ellipses all over the place and, (pauses after conjunction, not before) that’s just as a bad as the comma machine gun. Using this in addition to ellipses would cut back on both of those problems and still express the character. 

You may disagree. I wouldn’t blame you. But, I don’t care. This is just something I’ve heard about and tried to apply in places. It’s interesting at the very least. Anyway, here are some general communication guidelines

“( )” – clauses in parentheses are not relevant to the story and are generally directed at the reader. These come up mostly in first person or narrated stories.

“- -” – clauses between hyphens are asides that are not necessarily relevant, though they can be. More importantly, these clauses should be used for flavor or character expression (IE, alternate phrasing for what the character just said.)

“, ,” – the stuff in between two commas, as you should know, is most commonly a dependent clause. There are too many possible uses to list here. Just don’t abuse them! (It’s my problem too)


There are more but, this is the stuff I’m talking about so… (different version of this) that’s that! Like, comment. Let me know if you agree with this idea or not. Who enjoyed the grammar stuff? Am I the only massive nerd?

Later all


2 thoughts on “Non-verbal communication and establishing characters through creative grammar? Or… something…

  1. I’m a bit weird. I love reading posts about grammar. For my second draft there were a lot of comma’s edited out. I take pauses when I write and I add commas at that point where I pause. Like when children are told to. I’ve learned from this and I use less now, but I still fall back into the trap of pausing for emphasis rather than grammars sake. My characters are pretty dramatic at times and so am I, due to my love of acting. I guess publishers are going to want a polished manuscript? I really don’t know but I’m glad you brought the point up. You’re looking at my commas now aren’t you? lol


    • Haha I am! Commas are tricky because there are stringent rules dictating their usage, but they simultaneously add emphasis and flavor. To mimic speech, your inclination towards comma usage gets skewed. It’s especially tricky. Great comment by the way!


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