Betas (unpaid editors) can be a blessing and a curse: some have taught me my best tricks, and some have taught me their own mistakes. One told me the wrong rules for punctuation for dialogue. This is not that complex. As in Lesson #6, look it up!
A recent survey complained that authors over-use the em-dash, and I believe it’s because many writers don’t take the time to learn to properly use the colon and semicolon and to understand when commas can be used for subordinate and parenthetical clauses.
I like semicolons, as they join two similar ideas; however, they are rarely used in fiction, so take care when deciding to use one as opposed to a conjunction or a pair of separate sentences. Colons are great for elaboration, explanation, or clarification of a thought, but they’re not used in dialogue. Commas should be used if the “aside” statement is of less importance than deserves dashes. Parenthesis are not used in fiction, so commas or the em-dash are the best alternative for this type of situation.
The em-dash should be saved for “WOW” situations or important “asides.” That is, this punctuation is best used for abrupt changes, clauses that are far more important than the rest of the sentence, and to add drama to a clause. Otherwise, learn to use the appropriate alternative punctuation or consider rewording your sentence to make it simpler.
How to make an em-dash in MS Word: Consider a pair of words that you want an em-dash between. After you type the first word, leave no spaces, type two hyphens back-to-back, type the next word with no spaces. When you hit the space bar after the second word that frames the em-dash, it will appear. In other words, you replace the space between the words with two back-to-back hyphens.
I have trouble with too many commas, and a future post will be on some easy tricks to remember some situations for this. I bought a few books on grammar and punctuation, and I’m learning. And an editor cuts the extra commas I still include!
Learning from my mistakes would recommend taking advantage of outside reviewers like betas and editors to check punctuation!
Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!