The period, meaning the dot at the end of a sentence, is a pretty straightforward piece of punctuation. After all, it just comes at the end of a sentence, right? This is true, although it can be used a little differently sometimes in fiction writing.
At the End of a Sentence
There are five ways you can end a sentence in English. These are:
The period is used almost every time since the others are only for special situations.
A question mark is for questions (oh, really?). However it is important to remember that they are only for grammatical questions, not just for when the meaning is a question. For example, sentences that begin with “I wonder…” have the meaning of a question but they aren’t really questions, they are just statements:
“Who do you think stole my roof last night?” (question)
“I wonder who stole my roof last night.” (not a question)
Exclamation marks are for showing very strong emotion. They should be used rarely, however. They should never be used in academic writing and almost never in non-fiction and exposition. When they are used in dialogue, it should only be when someone is shouting. Never use more than one exclamation mark or question mark together (unless the characters are writing in text messages or something).
Just remember that the more often you use exclamation marks, the less impact they will have. Older comics used to use exclamation marks instead of periods and the result is that they become just like periods.
Except for these special situations, all other sentences are ended with a period.
Other Uses for the Period
The other use of the period is in dialogue. Dialogue is different from normal grammatical sentences since people often don’t speak in grammatical sentences, so we can use punctuation to show this (see my posts on the Dash and the Ellipsis).
A period is a full stop so it can be used to show someone emphasizing what they are saying. For example:
“I need you to make a birthday cake for mom,” she said slowly. “Not for your parrot, even if they do have the same birthday.”
I need you to make a birthday cake. For mom,” she said slowly. “Not for your parrot, even if they do have the same birthday.”
The basic meaning is the same for each of these but in the second one there is more emphasis on the fact that the cake is for mom, not for the parrot. You could imagine this is the third time she has said this and so is putting more emphasis on it to make sure he understands. Since a period is a full stop, using them in your sentence like this slows down dialogue.
You can do this even between individual words or letters to show extreme emphasis. This gives the impression that the person is speaking very slowly to make sure the other person understands.
“I do not want to go sky-diving!” he shouted. “No. Sky-diving. N.O. Got it?”
If you have any questions about writing or other topics you want me to talk about in Writing Corner, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.