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Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com • Semi-colon anonymous : Tips and Advice • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com
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Semi-colon anonymous

PostPosted: Sun Jul 31, 2016 2:22 pm
by Matt Janacone
It is amazing what happens when you surprise yourself, when you do something you did not think you could do.

That something happened to me when I discovered writing. I did not think I was smart enough to be a writer. I did not think I was capable of writing, well, on the professional or published level or outside of making a grocery list, writing a check or filling an application of some sort, but boy, was I wrong.
The discovery of writing and the joy I had for it turned me into a monster, well, in a good way. I had turned into Puff the Magic Dragon.

I think I was so happy when I discovered writing that I was more than off to the races writing poetry and prose. I was anxious. I took off before the gun had been fired. I think my writing was a running little too wild, maybe better words would have been that I had a lot of raw talent that had to be controlled on a leash.

But a wild imagination was just part of it. The signs that I was a rookie writer showed up in my sentence structure as well.

I abused the semi-colon. Everywhere a period should have been a semi-colon had occupied its space. I had been too pre-occupied with it. I used a semi-colon every chance I could get, which sadly meant it if was a sentence, it could use a semi-colon.

When I noticed this punctuation problem the most, when I was able to admit I had a problem, was after I had published a collection of novellas called “Three by the Sea”. A friend had purchased the book. Although she had enjoyed the book, she said whoever had edited the book had done a terrible job. It had been riddled with errors—typos and misspelled words.

“Three by the Sea” had been published by a Print-On-Demand publisher. I was such a fool rushing in. Proofreading was an extra cost I did not think the book needed, so to make sure I did not put my reputation as a published author in an even worse position, since I do not think she knew that I had been published by a Print-On-Demand publisher, I agreed with her that whoever had edited the book had done a terrible job, not me. Thank God there were no problems with the plot. I would have had to seriously re-think my career as a writer.

To stop my writing career from hemorrhaging I raced home and immediately began proofreading the book. Outside of normal typos and misspelled words, which was a big issue, I noticed an even bigger issue. The book had been plagued with semi-colons. It was not so much that I had used the semi-colon incorrectly. I guess the semi-colon had its time in place in short stories by authors like William Faulkner or Joyce Carol. It must have been a style then. I do not know. I just know I had gone overboard with the semi-colon. Really overboard! I had been so proud of my command of the semi-colon; now that pride had turned into embarrassment.

And so as I proofread the book, editing out not all of the semi-colons but most of them, replacing them with plain old periods. I performed a semi-colonoscopy and trained myself to use the semi-colon sparingly.

You have to be careful with the semi-colon. It can intimidate the reader more than impress them. It can clutter sentences, bloat paragraphs.

Before I discovered that the perfect solution to punctuation abuse with the semi-colon was simply breaking up sentences, I had noticed, I admit, there were cases where my sentences had run too long, too far, and I had gotten lost in them—and not “lost” in the sense that I had been enchanted by them—but of course, I had already been addicted to semi-colons. I had to go to the obedience school of punctuation or semi-colon anonymous to force the semi-colonoscopy.

If there are any authors out there who use the semi-colon correctly that author is mystery novelist Carl Hiaasen. I am sure there are others, but on the rare occasion that I do read—it is just that writing does not leave me too much free time to read since writing and revising my own work is so exhausting—Hiaasen is an author I do read. Hiaasen does not abuse the semi-colon. I do not know if he purposely uses the semi-colon, just wants to include them, or if his sentences just call for it, but the semi-colons in his books do not seem to wear out their welcome. I think the choice to use the semi-colon mine had long wore out their welcome in my earlier years as a writer when I wanted to show off what I thought was my command of the English language.

Today, as a screenwriter, a children’s book author and novelist, to avoid the semi-colonoscopy, I use the semi-colon in moderation only with a steady, strict diet of simple short sentences. Semi-colonoscopies can be expensive.

Read more articles by Matt Janacone http://writermattjanacone.blogspot.com/

Re: Semi-colon anonymous

PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 5:24 am
by cynicalwanderer

Re: Semi-colon anonymous

PostPosted: Wed Oct 12, 2016 11:02 pm
by TwoStepCharlie
Semi-colons are my #1 favourite punctuation symbol, bar none! The most useful for my style of writing; which usually features slightly longish sentence-ry of 2 or 4 clauses.

Secondly I go for the ellipsis. Not sure why...well, actually I am sure, but I'm just being coy.

Thirdly I love the double-hyphen. "Jane! Where have you--"

And fourth, I have fondness for the 'single quote mark'. I use it inordinately. I hate "full" aka, "double-quotes". Probably because for a single-quote, I need not touch the shift-key.

That's muh rulin'!

Re: Semi-colon anonymous

PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 2:57 pm
by Dreaming Imrryr

Re: Semi-colon anonymous

PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 3:04 pm
by williamadams
i love commas
sometimes the semicolon is the better choice