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Why hyphens are important

Updated: Nov 26, 2018

Just finished the final edit of Children Of The Deterrent (available for pre-order here, folks

It got me thinking about the “boring” stuff such as hyphens, contractions, em-dashes, and parentheses. They seem unimportant until, like the headline writer in the wonderfully named Pratt Tribune in Kansas, you neglect them.

Hyphens in words such as “first-hand” are important. In North America, you go further and combine words – “firsthand,” which—generally—I prefer. It looks neater on the page.

Hyphens, and contracted words, serve the interests of flow. Writers often talk about flow. Readers know all about it. Flow is invisible until it’s broken. A sentence that’s too long, a lazy metaphor, a cliché: any of these can wrench us away from the story. A missing hyphen can do the same thing.

My favourite books are often written in a conversational style, but it’s hyper-conversational. It’s how we would speak if our brains worked ten times faster, letting us marshall our thoughts and choose the most appropriate  words for every occasion. Page-turning novels communicate clearly, and economically. No waste, no fluff. An espresso, not a frappuccino with whipped cream.  Graham Greene and PG Wodehouse wrote that way. Carol Shields, too. Stephen King, Ursula LeGuin and Lee Child write that way today. We all have our favourites. It’s not the only way to write, but when it’s done well, it can make a fictional world seem as solid as the one we live in, a character in a book as real as the friend we spoke to yesterday.

Just watch out for hyphens. I love the way the article under that headline starts with the words eager students

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