Monday, 30 March 2015

Semicolon Frenzy

This week I’ve had the privilege of reading the opening to 11 self-published novels. In at least 8 of them, I spotted incorrect use of semicolons. It was such an issue that I decided not to factor it into my selection.

But we need to talk!

I love semicolons. I think they can turn a good line into a powerful punch. However, incorrect usage seems to be a huge problem for aspiring authors and indie authors alike.

Semicolons are used to join two full sentences to imply a link, or to separate list items.

The most frequent offence was using them instead of either a simple comma or when they should have used a colon. If you can replace one with a comma and you’re not writing a list, you’re doing it wrong. If you can replace one with a full stop, then you’re probably doing it right.

Overuse is a problem, too. Just like someone slapping you again and again, they lose their power and you become numb to them. They become a distraction from the writing. It also means you have repetitive sentence structures as well as a text that looks unappealing from a distance.

If you think about it, sentences in a paragraph are all linked to each other to some degree, but using semicolons all the time is unnecessary. Only use one when they add to the meaning.

I’ll come out and say it too, they look pretentious when overused. Some writers and readers are particular adverse to them for this reason.

Kurt Vonnegut: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.”

This is an extreme view, and one I do not share, but I understand where he’s coming from. Overuse is worse than no use at all in my opinion. Sort them out, guys!

Here are some past articles on semicolons:

Colon Usage: Non-semicolon usage
The Supposedly Elusive Semicolon
Comma Splice: A Spaghetti Western
Must Read Advice Before You Self-Publish

If you watch this, you need to see the end to get the real point, or skip to 2.25.