F is for full stop
How do you use the full stop correctly?
We know what a full stop does. It is basic grammar. The full stop, full point or period marks the end of a sentence. It allows writers and readers to have a breather. It is our friend. And yet we neglect it.
So how do you use the full stop correctly?
Novelist Lucy Ellmann achieved a Booker shortlisting in 2019 for Ducks, Newburyport, sporting just eight full stops over 1,020 pages, but keeping sentences to more easily digestible lengths is generally recommended.
Ernest Hemingway famously got to the full stop, and the story’s end, in just six words:
For sale, baby shoes, never worn.
Sometimes writers can get so involved in what they want to say, or try to say far too much, and the result – as you see here – is a long and rambling sentence, filled with subordinate clauses, which forgets where it was going long before it can get there. Don’t do it.
Keep each sentence short and to the point. If it’s getting long, or has more than one clause, split it up with full stops. Aiming for one idea per sentence is a good rule of thumb.
Never is the need for brevity greater than in the first sentence. An opener should have no more than 15 words. You do not want your audience to fall at the first hurdle.
Subsequent sentences should be around 20 words, but that is an average. Vary the length to bring rhythm to your writing.
Paragraphs are important, too. These should be no more than 80 words, or around four sentences. Long blocks of solid type can put readers – and perhaps even Booker prize judges – off.