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What Happened to the Punctuation??

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Showing 1-16 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 10, 2007 4:38:28 AM PST
BuckNaked2k says:
This is my first Cormac Mccarthy novel, so forgive me if this is known to insiders, but where the he11 are all the quotation marks around dialogue, and the apostrophes in contractions?

I'm no English teacher, but I do read a lot, and appreciate proper editing, and the use of standard writing style.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2007 9:19:24 PM PST
dec says:
It was my first McCarthy novel too, and I'm No insider as you put it.I was raised in Texas, a while ago,now. There is, or maybe was a manner of speech in West Texas, especially men's speech that is flat, without wide intonation,and understated. Outsiders sometimes took that manner of speaking and the speaker to be disinterested, laconic, even stupid; nothing could be farther from the truth. My Uncles talked just like that. They were closely observant men that gave away as little as possible. You listened more for what they didn't say than for what they did or you were out of the loop, out of luck , and likely out some money as well. It didn't hurt either of them to skin a nephew that didn't pay attention.
I believe McCarthy used the lack of punctuation in the dialogue to help convey both the sound and the rhythm of that way of speaking, with varying degrees of success.Even as I read it I could hear my Uncle's voices and others from West Texas in my head but they were family. Not every reader had that advantage, such as it was.It might help to read a little of it out loud.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2008 11:41:52 AM PST
Dick Marti says:
If you are a famous author and write good books and best sellers, you can get away without such niceties as punctuation. It's called "literature. If you are like everybody else, punctuation errors are; not allowed

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2008 7:52:50 AM PST
In the book, I was first thrown by the lack of quotation marks and apostrophes, so you have to figure out what's dialogue and what's not (or as McCarthy would write: whats dialogue and whats not). I came to see he's a minimalist. He writes with a minimum of what's needed to tell a story, including standard punctuation and much if any character description. Chigurh is described as medium build with a slightly dark complexion, and, "He looked like anybody." The amazing thing about McCarthy's writing is that you fall into his style, and it's easy to read. McCarthy has won several awards, including a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, so clearly he knows what he's doing.

Cormac McCarthy rarely gives interviews. He writes out of passion and doesn't like talking about it. His first of ten novels, including The Orchard Keeper and Outer Dark, were not financial windfalls of any sort. In fact, he remembers once he was so poor, he couldn't afford toothpaste, but positive things would nonetheless happen to him-including a free sample of toothpaste in the day's mail. In the early eighties, he lived off of his McArthur Fellowship grant.

A friend directed me to McCarthy's one and only television interview, which was for Oprah. You can see the interview at You will have to fill out a simple form for Oprah, but it's worth it.

One of the things McCarthy speaks about in the interview is his style. He says, "James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There's no reason to block the page up with weird little marks. If you write properly, you shouldn't have to punctuate... It's to make it easier, not to make it harder...[Use] simple declarative sentences. I believe in periods and capitals, and the occasional comma. You can use a colon if you're about to give a list."

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 4, 2008 12:33:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 4, 2008 12:35:29 PM PDT
It's called an author's style. And errors are only errors when you don't know you're making them. These are intentional stylistic choices.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 5, 2008 1:38:22 PM PDT
Troy S. says:
What do you mean, Writing Reader? If by that, then say I blatantly make errors. Does that, since I'm not mistakenly making those said errors, make whatever I'm writing devoid of materialistic errors then?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 6, 2008 12:49:31 PM PDT
Betsy says:
Great to finally get some explanation of McCarthy's non use of punctuation. Even though it is annoying to read with no punctuation or quotation marks I keep reading him. I just finished the Road. Everyone should read this book!!! It is really the best one.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 18, 2008 10:54:14 AM PDT
Eric Wyatt says:
geez, i never found myself "struggling" to read this book due to it's lack of quotation marks. i thought it was a "novel" idea. if a person had a hard time enjoying this book because of this "grammatical unorthodoxy", maybe he or she is a little "high strung".

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2008 1:04:29 PM PDT
Verily says:
What happened to the money is what I'd like to know.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2008 8:15:18 PM PDT
Dihedral says:
Chigurh brought it back to whoever hired him, less his fee and expenses. The other person was never shown, presumably part of the drug deal.


In reply to an earlier post on Jun 24, 2008 6:42:52 AM PDT
E. Eccher says:
Have only seen the movie, but I thought the man who hired Wells (Woody Harrelson) had previously hired Chigurh. Before the latter blew him away, he complained that the man had given the transponder receiver to the Mexicans.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 29, 2009 1:51:28 AM PST
I have to say I'm amused by the consternation that the lack of punctuation marks causes some people.

The lack of apostrophes, commas and quotation marks didn't cause me any trouble in the least. The prose is simple and effective and the 'missing' punctuation shouldn't hinder any careful reader.

As for criticising the fact that McCarthy avoids a "standard writing style", I'm aghast. Why would you want every writer to be indistinguishable from the next?
The world is full of variety and disparity, it's what makes life exciting.

Posted on May 18, 2009 7:08:12 AM PDT
Derek Young says:
For most people, when they speak using contractions they're not really contracting anything -- people don't think of two words and then stick them together, so skipping the apostrophe for "cant" does make sense. The other interesting thing about McCarthy's style for dialog is that it often blurs the line between when something is said or thought or dreamed.

Last thing, McCarthy's novels seem to work best when read as if they were being read aloud to you. There's no parentheticals or complex sentence structure so they're easy to imagine someone speaking the words to you. I read a page of The Road to my wife and I was surprised at how easy it was for me to convey what was there to someone who hadn't read the book.

Posted on Nov 29, 2009 5:56:50 PM PST
twaitsfan says:
I find it contrived and pretentious. How can it be simpler if it is much more difficult for the reader to know who is speaking? Reads like a gimmick to me, like trying to be different just to be different.

The only thing more pretentious is WritingReader's remark: "It's called an author's style".

Posted on May 23, 2010 5:47:03 PM PDT
It didn't take me too long to get used to the lack of punctuation. Big deal.

I object much more strongly to his removing the capitalization of proper nouns. For example, in "The Road", he mentions a mae west. I know what a Mae West is, but I had to reread the sentence to figure it out.

Posted on Apr 20, 2012 12:02:37 PM PDT
As an author myself (though by no means one of McCarthy's stature or talent), I've invested a great deal of time in mastering the mechanics of writing, including punctuation. That said, although his lack of punctuation (particularly quotation marks) was initially a bit disconcerting, I came to appreciate it from several perspectives. First, it does seem to augment the stark settings, characters, and theme of his stories. Moreover, it also forces the reader to stop from time to time to really ponder what it is he's trying to say, and for me, that's often a benefit. I'm sure a less gifted writer couldn't pull it off, nor am I inclined to go that route in my own writing, but it seems to work just fine for him. He is one of just a handful of modern writers whose work I truly admire.
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Participants:  16
Total posts:  16
Initial post:  Dec 10, 2007
Latest post:  Apr 20, 2012

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No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (Paperback - 2006)
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