This Part 2 guide on punctuating children’s fiction follows on from Part 1. It is mainly for my clients who are independent (indie), self-publishing authors of children’s books because it answers the questions they ask about punctuation.
The rules, though, apply to any writer of fiction.
When I give feedback to indie authors who ask for help about how to punctuate, especially the dialogue in their book, this is my advice.
Covered in Part 1
- dialogue (speech)
- paragraph break
- exclamation mark
- question mark
- curly quote marks.
Here in Part 2 are more advanced types of punctuation: colons, semicolons, hyphens and types of dashes (including the en dash and em dash), and brackets (parentheses).
These punctuation features are used in more complex stories and texts for older children and young adults. As children progress through upper primary school (Key stage 2), they learn how to read them, their function and effect, and how to apply them in their own writing.
- hyphen/dash (-)
- en dash (–)
- em dash (—).
A colon is used to introduce the information that follows it.
– Introducing a list: The colon is used before a list of items, examples, or explanations, eg There are three primary colours: red, blue and yellow.
– Introducing a quote or statement: When introducing a quote, a colon can be used, eg She had one motto: Never give up.
A semicolon is used to connect two closely related but independent clauses, creating a stronger link than a full stop or comma. The main uses of semicolons are:
– Joining related independent clauses, eg She went to the party; he stayed at home.
– Separating items in a complex list. When a list already contains items with commas, semicolons can be used to separate the list items. For example, The colours available were red, blue, and green; other colours were unavailable.
I’ve seen much confusion in the use of colons and semicolons. Writers don’t remember the differences between them. If it looks wrong, if you’re in doubt, don’t use them. Or ask someone to check you’ve used them correctly.
The hyphen or dash is used to join words together to form compound words or to make nouns become adjectival phrases when they are used to describe a noun.
Do you prefer ‘well-being’ or ‘wellbeing’? NODWE (New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors) uses a hyphen; Collins Dictionary doesn’t. When you have decided on whether to hyphenate a word or not, keep the style for consistency.
Another common use is that adjectival words are hyphenated before a noun, eg well-known phrase, up-to-date regulations.
En dash (–)
When the dash gets longer, it becomes the en dash/en rule (–) and em dash/em rule (—). Until I did my proofreading training with the CIEP I had no idea there were differences. I hadn’t looked that closely …
The en dash is the length of an ‘n’ and is used in two ways:
1. To represent a range of values, such as numbers or dates, eg pages 10–15, 1980–1985.
2. Instead of commas to show a parenthetical phrase, eg Alfie had fair hair that was far too long – making him peer under his fringe – and pale blue eyes. En dashes are used in the same way as brackets. Used mainly in UK fiction and non-fiction.
Em dash (—)
The em dash is the length of an ‘m’. It is more likely to used for parentheses in fiction published in the US. Again, it indicates a break in thought or to separate parenthetical phrases in a sentence. It provides emphasis, eg The weather—hot and humid—was unbearable. It can also be used to show interrupted speech, eg I thought for a while, then—.
Don’t worry too much about en dashes and em dashes in your book. Children don’t learn about them in school. There is no need to use them in your books for children.
If you are an author and your editor spots that dashes have been used instead of en dashes or em dashes, they have an efficient way of changing them as part of their editing service. So no worries.
Parentheses are used to enclose additional information or explanations within a sentence. They provide extra detail or clarification, eg The conference (where there were over 200 delegates) was very informative.
Ensuring readability and clarity
There we are. That concludes your author guide to punctuating children’s fiction, whether you’ve written a picture book, chapter book, or fiction for Middle Grade (MA) or Young Adult (YA) readers.
Remember to use punctuation marks thoughtfully and appropriately to improve the clarity and readability in your writing. Using a variety of punctuation will keep the reader interested.
But if there is a missing full stop, misplaced comma or quote mark, it will trip the reader up.
If you’re still unsure about how to use punctuation, go to a bookshop or library, pick up a book for the age and genre you are writing for, and look at how the punctuation is used.
Using my teaching experience
My experience of 30 years teaching in the primary classroom is valuable if you need advice on writing a children’s book.
Think of me as a fairy godmother placing that punctuation perfectly … Your book is in safe hands.
See my Contact me page to email me about my availability to proofread children’s books and educational books.
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Punctuating Children’s Fiction (Part 1)
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