Punctuation inspiration

1. Punctuation as art

Full Stop Slipstream, Fiona Banner

Full Stop sculpture, More London

Ahh, the full stop. It’s taken a lot of stick lately for being aggressive – making most of us drop it from the end of instant messages.

But thanks to Fiona Banner’s sculpture series in More London, here’s a very concrete (well, bronze) reminder of this simple punctuation mark in all its glory.

This one’s in an italicised font called Slipstream. (But I took a terrible photo, so you can see it looking much nicer, and facing the right way on Fiona’s Instagram page.)

2. Forgotten punctuation

The interrobang

Interrobang. I loved this word for the ?! combo the moment I heard it. But I hadn’t realised it originally came with its own symbol, too (which I’ve attempted to draw).

Martin Speckter suggested creating the single punctuation mark as a symbol of incredulity back in 1963, but by the 1970s it had fallen out of fashion. And it’s not the only new punctuation people have suggested.

My drawing of an interrobang (a question mark wrapped around an exclamation mark)

According to Mental Floss, printers, authors and philosophers have championed punctuation marks for irony, rhetorical questions and even love.

Although those new punctuation marks didn’t take off either, I reckon they paved the way for today’s emojis, which pretty much cover every emotion from 😂 to 😡. I even found a romantic exclamation ❣️ (or the lovebang, if you will).

3. Only the punctuation

The punctuation in the first half of my upcoming debut, Small!

Since a friend shared the link to this word-stripping website, I’ve become slightly obsessed with it. Type in whatever you’re working on to see how your WIP would look without any words.

Here’s the first half of my upcoming debut, Small! With exclamation marks and full stops galore (although no true interrobangs, sadly) you can probably guess the reading age just by looking at it.

And for all my wafflings about the end of full stops and the rise of emojis, good old-fashioned punctuation will be welcome in my stories any day.


Inspiration from art

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opens to the public next week. I was lucky enough to sneak in early and pick up some word wrangling inspiration.

There were over 1,300 pieces on display. Here are three that might help you crack your next story.

1. Opening image

Divinity, Lola Flash

Struan Murray says he started Orphans of the Tide with one strong image in mind: a whale stranded on a chapel rooftop.

Exhibitions are always packed with visual story starters. And, for me, Lola Flash’s photo of a mysterious praying figure against an upturned boat has the hallmarks of a cracking opening image.

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want?
  • Where have they come from?

I can’t look at it without wanting to reach for a pen to find answers.

Lola Flash’s Divinity

2. Setting

Green Kitchen, Bogotá, Caroline Peña-Bray

Green Kitchen, Bogotá, Caroline Peña-Bray

I have a dreadful habit of writing first drafts in a vacuum – with characters doing things in spaces that are impossible to picture.

But getting the setting right makes telling the rest of the story so much easier. That’s where a good gallery can help.

Look at the personality bursting from Caroline Peña-Bray’s ramshackle kitchen. It’s hard to imagine any scene set here not being full of noise and life, too.

What do your settings – from the colours on the walls to the amount of clutter crammed onto the shelves (or not) – say about your characters? If your settings aren’t saying much, perhaps they’re not working hard enough.

For more world-building inspiration, make a beeline for the RA’s architecture room, where full models of buildings and cities are laid out in front of you. They’re such a help if, like me, you’re not great at visualising the places in your book.

3. Character

I Bite & Sting: Mosquito and Jellyfish, Stephen Chambers

I Bite & Sting: Mosquito and Jellyfish, Stephen Chambers

Have you ever seen a more terrifying, ready-made villain than Stephen Chambers’ jellyfish? This etching gives me the creeps, and also gets me wondering what evil sting plot is going on behind those very big eyes…

Galleries are great places to find your next characters – heroes, pets, sidekicks and evil jellyfish overlords alike.

The RA Summer Exhibition is on from 22nd Sept-2nd January 2022. Tickets are £20-£22 (and if you buy anything, you get a free ticket the following year). If you make it along, tell me about your favourite pieces in the replies. #RASummer