Best Guide to Using Punctuation Marks in Creative Writing

Best Guide to Using Punctuation Marks in Creative Writing

If you must write, then you must learn punctuation marks. Don’t be like the old me that punctuated words according to my whims. The truth about punctuation marks is that they can be really tricky. Sometimes a sentence might not sound so worthy to end with an exclamation mark, but accurately it should be the right punctuation to use instead of a full stop.

Before I learned to punctuate my writing properly, I would usually drop each punctuation mark that comes to mind wherever my guts tell me to. Lol! So if you are doing the same now, I would say… STOP IT!!!

Although you probably already know all there is to be known about punctuation marks, or you just need a little more clarification on the topic. Whichever category you belong to, you will find this best guide to using punctuation marks in creative writing quite useful.

Let’s even see what a punctuation mark is. After which we can delve into the different types and practical usage examples/guide. So stick with me as we proceed.

What are Punctuation Marks? 

A punctuation or punctuation marks are symbols employed in writing to separate words into clauses and sentences in order to create clarity of understanding. It is like a special spice like salt to a writing such that without it, the real quality or meaning of a sentence would not be felt.

When is it Used in a Writing?

Punctuation marks are used throughout a writing process irrespective of language to indicate periods, pauses, exclamations, introduction to a list, to indicate a question, to point out a quote, etc. 

How are Punctuation Marks Used?

To use punctuation marks correctly, you need to read like you ‘should’ talk. I made use of ‘should’ because some people actually talk without pausing for breath. Such a person would skip commas and full stops most times if asked to write as they talk. 

So do your writing and punctuate the places you were able to identify at that time. Then return to your written work during proofreading to edit properly. 

To enable you to self-edit and effect punctuations accurately, you should read out patiently; loudly or at a low tone, taking note of where you paused for breath, where you asked a question, where you echoed some instructions or exclaimed, had a statement that showed possession, and where you completed sentences.

You may also employ the aid of an online grammar checker like Grammarly. It would auto-suggest where to punctuate and where not to. While making use of an online assistant like this, pay attention to the suggestions made and learn for future application.

Also bear in mind that online assistants ain’t always 100% accurate. If you effect all suggestions it gives you, you might loose the tone of your intended communication. Read cautiously before effecting their recommendations.

See below the meaning of each of the punctuation marks to guide you on when to make use of them. 

Types of Punctuation Marks

In writing, we have majorly 14 punctuation marks;

  1. Fullstop/period. 
  2. Comma
  3. Colon
  4. Semicolon 
  5. Question mark
  6. Dash
  7. Hyphen 
  8. Exclamation mark
  9. Apostrophe
  10. Quotation Marks 
  11. Ellipsis 
  12. Bracket
  13. Parentheses
  14. Braces

How to Make Use of Punctuation Marks With Examples

Here are some examples to show you how to use a punctuation mark in writing/creative writing. Seeing them used in sentences is about the best way to explain and help you understand their roles in words or sentences.

1. Full stop (.)

Full stop mark, often called ‘period’ shows when a sentence is completed. This you can derive from its name – fully stopped, or a period. It appears at the end of a sentence to show completion and also alert that a new sentence is about to begin. This is one of the most frequently used of all punctuation marks. 

Here is an example of usage:

  • He went home. 

It is also made use of to signify abbreviations or abbreviated terms. As in the below example:

  • Mrs. Joan.
  • Mr. Lewis. 

2. Comma (,)

Comma shows a break/pause in sentences, a separation between words, sentences or ideas.

Here are some examples:

  • When I got there, they offered me a seat. 
  • My mum, siblings, and I were at the bazaar.
  • They gifted us foods, drinks, and fruits.

3. Colon (:)

Colon have lots of functions in a sentence. It can be used for emphasis, to introduce a quote, a series, or phrases. It is usually used to link two independent clauses.

Often times colons appear in sentences to make emphasis or introduce a list in places you could have placed phrases like which is and such as.

For example:

  • She speaks several languages: German, French, English, Spanish, Turkish and Igbo.
  • He received his long awaited goods: electronics and furniture.

In the above example, you can see that the sentence on itself is complete and requires no additional words. But the list of items added is introduced by a colon for emphasis.

You can also use it for explanation purposes to clarify.

  • I didn’t bother calling anymore: it was past the deadline.

4. Semicolon (;) 

Semicolon just like colon links independent clauses, but the clauses here are more related than the ones linked by colon. For example;

  • Linda hissed at Alex: she knew very well that such act infuriates him.

Also, you can use semicolon to introduce a list that already has commas just like in the example below;

  • He bought fruits, oranges; vegetable, cabbage; nuts, tigernut; and a snack, doughnut.

5. Question Mark (?)

question mark

This is used for two major purposes, to interrogate and secondly, to make a clarification.

It usually comes at the end of sentences with Why, What, Where, When, Who, and How. It also appears at the end of sentences that are meant to interrogate or clarify. For example;

To interrogate:

  • Why are you late?
  • What did you have for lunch? 

To make a clarification:

  • Will he drive through the damaged bridge?
  • What could I have done wrong?

6. Dash (en dash & em dash) 

The dash is of two types; the en dash and the em dash.

The en dash (-) is shorter than em dash but longer than a hyphen. It is used in writings to indicate connection between words, ranges in number and direction. Here is an instance;

  • He traveled through the Lagos-Ibadan express road to avoid the raid.
  • The pandemic was recorded in 2020-2021.

The em dash (-) appears in writings sometimes in place of other punctuation marks like commas, parentheses and colons. It is used to show an emphasis. For example;

  • She ended up getting hurt – quite unfortunate.
  • Remember that line from the old popular movie – Sound of Music

7. Hyphen (-) 

Hyphens appear similar to the dash but shorter than the en dash. It is used to link words together to form compound words; compound nouns, compound adjectives and compound numbers. For example;

  • Her mother-in-law is so caring.
  • She patiently waited at the dining-table.
  • My granny clocked seventy-three years two weeks ago.

8. Exclamation Mark (!)

This shows or depicts an echo, yell, or emotional outburst. In simple or easy practice, you would notice a rise in the voice tone where an exclamation mark is placed or written. Just as the name signifies – to exclaim. Some call this an exclamation point.

For example 

  • Hey!
  • Get out! 
  • I can’t believe I made it! 

9. Apostrophe (‘)

Apostrophe can be used to show omissions, as in –

  • I’ve bought all I need for the trip.
  • they’ve been attended to.

It can also be used to show possession. For example;

  • Cloe’s puppy is so adorable

10. Quotation Mark (” & ‘)

Quotation mark is of two types; double quotation mark and single quotation mark.

Double quotation mark (” “) is used in creative writing to show speeches, dialogue or the voice of a character.

  • Susan retorted angrily, I am not your puppet (double & single)

It is also used to show quotes. 

  • According to Joe, “Respect should be reciprocated”.

Single Quotation Mark (‘ ‘) is sometimes easily confused for an apostrophe. It is used to indicate a quote within a quote.

For example;

  • Julius convincingly told the coordinator, “I was there when they roared in anger ‘the food is not enough’ before the vendor brought the next food cart”.

11. Ellipsis (…)

To show an intentional omission of unnecessary words, or that a sentence continues but the extra part is not relevant in the particular context being discussed. Instead of to write that the class recited the alphabets and writing it all out from A to Z, you could easily just write instead; A B C D … Z, and let the ellipsis communicate the rest to the reader.

This can also be employed in a writing very common quotes or lines. For example;

  • Luke reminded him the popular saying, “A fool at 40 is a fool …”
  • The children chorused the poem at the peak of their voices, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, …”

12. Bracket ([])

Brackets are used to add information, corrections, clarification or explanation or even comments in a sentence or quoted material. For example;

  • She [Linda] went ahead to persecute her friend.

13. Parentheses (())

Parentheses are used to add extra thoughts or some nonessential information in the form of phrases to a sentence which could easily be separated with commas. For example;

  • Nelly (my years old girlfriend) just got nominated as the Vice Chancellor in the Institution.
  • Austin (the guy with a limp next door) visited yesterday.

14. Braces ({})

Being that our discussion in this article is on punctuation marks within the context of creative writing, we most likely shouldn’t mention braces. But it is important to key it in as a bonus, so you take note of all the punctuation marks there is. And also make use of them in a proper way, without getting them all mixed up.

Therefore, braces are similar to parentheses and brackets but has pointed extensions at the middle. They are commonly used in groups of numbers and mathematical texts. For example;

  • She wrote these group of numbers {2, 4, 6, 8,10} for the pupils to identify.
  • Calculate (4x{6+a[9-5]}=x)

Why is Punctuation Used in Writing?

Imagine reading an unpunctuated text. You will find it very difficult to make meaning out of the writing.

Punctuation is one of the key things to factor in any writing process or activity.

Let’s check out the importance of Punctuation Marks;

  • Punctuation mark simplifies a written text for easy understanding. 
  • It shows emphasis where necessary. 
  • It aids proper reading with meaning.
  • They show the relationship between words and sentences.
  • In creative writing, it helps to convey/communicate the tone/relatable tone of a character. 


Which of the punctuation marks have you been using wrongly? And which will you introduce into your writing henceforth? 

You know I always love to read your feedback in the comment section, right? 

Kindly leave feedback in the comment box below. 

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