Cormac McCarthy on punctuation
'James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.'
And his three rules
1. Quotation Marks:
McCarthy doesn’t use ‘em. In his Oprah interview, he says MacKinlay Kantor was the first writer he read who left them out. McCarthy stresses that this way of writing dialogue requires particular deliberation. Speaking of writers who have imitated him, he says, “You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks, and write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” Otherwise, confusion reigns.
2. Colons and semicolons:
Careful McCarthy reader Oprah says she “saw a colon once” in McCarthy’s prose, but she never encountered a semicolon. McCarthy confirms: “No semicolons.”
Of the colon, he says: “You can use a colon, if you’re getting ready to give a list of something that follows from what you just said. Like, these are the reasons.” This is a specific occasion that does not present itself often. The colon, one might say, genuflects to a very specific logical development, enumeration. McCarthy deems most other punctuation uses needless.
3. All other punctuation:
Aside from his restrictive rationing of the colon, McCarthy declares his stylistic convictions with simplicity: “I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.” It’s a discipline he learned first in a college English class, where he worked to simplify 18th century essays for a textbook the professor was editing. Early modern English is notoriously cluttered with confounding punctuation, which did not become standardized until comparatively recently.