Punctuation doesn’t have to be complicated. If you can put periods at the ends of declarative sentences, question marks at the ends of questions, and the occasional comma between dependent and independent clauses, then you’ll be fine. If you’re a professional writer then you might need to know a bit more, but even some professional writers do quite well with very little punctuation. In this rare interview, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy talks about his minimalist approach to punctuation.
To see what that looks like, here is an excerpt from McCarthy’s novel The Road:
“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.”
Here it is again with just the punctuation.
“ ’ . . . . . ’ . . . . . . . . , . , . . .”
That’s seventeen periods and two commas for that whole, huge paragraph. Now, you don’t have to take it to quite the extreme that McCarthy does, but the point is that you can be a great writer without using a lot of complicated punctuation.