1. lameri
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    lameri Senior Member

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    Colons and semicolons OK in creative writing?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by lameri, Dec 4, 2011.

    I am finding a lot of division on this topic. Some published authors love them, some don't use them at all (replacing colons with dashes and semicolons with commas or periods). What is your opinion and why do you take that stand?
    Thanks.
     
  2. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    This topic has been covered to death on these forums. Not to be rude. Just sayin'. You should do a search.

    But anyway, all that matters is that editors don't like them much. Who cares what we think.
     
  3. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you answer 'yes' to the following questions then you would be advised to not use them.

    - Am I a moron?

    - Does my audience consist of morons?

    - Is my editor a moron?

    - Am I a mere seller of a commodity?

    - Do you think that other punctuation marks can accomplish exactly what these punctuation marks can accomplish?
     
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  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Since there are plenty of examples currently out there of colons and semicolons being used in novels, I wouldn't worry too much about this.
    IMO, this kind of punctuation is used well only by good-good writers, generally in a more 'literary' genre; it's overused by bad-good writers, and it will take them nowhere, so they should steer clear; it's done by good-bad writers, especially British writers like Robert Goddard, particularly when they write in spy/mystery genre and since it really doesn't matter to the plot, it's no problem; and bad-bad trashy romance/vampire novelists, ditto previous category. Which one do you fall into?
     
  5. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    My opinion is that yes, there is a lot of division on the subject, and that you have to find your own style and voice.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My opinion is that if you can use them correctly, go ahead and use them. I think they get a bad rap because too many writers don't know how to use them. And unfortunately, there may be some editors these days who don't like them because they themselves have no idea how to use them, so they distrust them.

    In America, at least, we need better education for our young kids, so that things like colons and semicolons won't be such mysteries to people.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, they are OK.

    I second Art's post.
     
  8. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The same thing can be said about plenty of other punctuation marks, or indeed any aspect of writing.

    That doesn't mean folks should 'steer clear' of stuff they don't know. They'd be better advised to learn how to use them.
     
  9. lameri
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    lameri Senior Member

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    Thank you very much for your responses.
    architectus: I did do a search but found only specific colon/semicolon questions. I was unable to find a thread with a bulk of opinions on this site. I went to another site and easily found one thread on it. Sorry I wasn't able to find it here...
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Lameri, I understand, but again, our opinions don't really matter. It only matters what editors think, specificaly, the editors you will be submitting to.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are writing a novel, you won't be submitting to an editor. You will find an agent, or try your luck directly with a reader in a publishing house. You should always do your own editing, anyway.
    @ VM80: I meant, you should avoid submitting work where you make a lot of use of them until a) you have learnt to use them properly, or b) have learnt how to write without the need for them. I have nearly finished a 75,000 novel and I know for a fact there is not one colon or semicolon in it, because I deliberately choose not to use them in lighter romance fiction.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    madhoca, yeah, whoever at the publishing house is going to read it. They're opinion matters.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    imo, 'NO'... at least not for works published in the us, where it's not been common practice for decades, though in the uk such usage is still acceptable...

    in all instances, a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction do a much better and more reader-friendly job...
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maia, I've seen you say this in several threads, but you never explain it. WHY don't you like colons and semicolons? I mean, specifically? And why do you think they should be banned in the USA but are OK in the UK?

    Commas, dashes, and so on do NOT always do a much better job. There are times when colons and semicolons are exactly right for the purpose, and substituting commas or periods or dashes is like hammering square pegs into round holes. These punctuation marks exist for a reason, and they should be used when it is appropriate to do so.
     
  15. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Quite so, Minstrel.

    Further to the point about doing what the guy at the (US) publishing house wants:

    Are you absolutely certain he doesn't care for them or is this merely an assumption? Has the industry issued a press release stating it has no time for them?

    This might be an idea: you are a creative artist. Create as best you can. If that best creation includes colons and semi-colons, so be it. And, if someone asks you to remove your colons and semi-colons - asks you to change your manuscript for the worse - then you are dealing with an idiot, clearly.
     
  16. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although I absolutely agree that the above may be better for certain styles of writing, I have to say that I read many newly-published American novels where they are used, so I don't really think you can say they haven't been used for 'decades'. And when you look at Booker Prize winners, for example, those writers use them, almost without exception. I think it just takes skill/training to do well. I also think that em dashes can often be very reader-UNfriendly and need to be used VERY sparingly. The best thing to do is structure a sentence that flows with the minimum of intrusive punctuation, I suppose.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i never said they 'haven't been used for decades'... please read what i did say...

    as for the 'why' of my comments:
    modernday american readers generally consider the colon/semicolon appropriate for technical/scholastic/nonfiction but not for fiction, where the more 'casual'/less 'formal' marks i listed are more easily understood... the sad fact is that american public schools today don't spend much [if any] time on teaching the finer points of punctuation, so the majority of fiction readers under the age of say 50 or so don't know what to make of a ; or : but do understand what the 'simpler' marks mean...

    this piece [from whence came the above quote] spells out the other reasons better than i could:

    http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2010/10/great-semi-colon-debate.html
     
  18. Ross M Kitson
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    Ross M Kitson Member

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    As a newbie (to the site not writing) I can see why authors get in a tizzy about them. Prior posts are spot on in the sense that it depends upon your genre and partly your style. Literary fiction, historical fiction- sure. Kids, pop fiction, maybe even general probably not. I write fantasy and use them as it seems to fit the narrative style. Whether it'd bother an editor- I imagine they're fairly divided and it depends what genre they are looking at. Imagine if they don't like 'em then they'll cut them. Be surprised if it was the make or break for a manuscript though.
     
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Mammamaia linked to a column by James Scott Bell above. I tried to read Bell's book Plot and Structure a couple of years ago, but it was just about the most irritating and, well, underbrained book on writing I'd ever read, and I've read a lot of books on writing. It found its way into the garbage bin quickly and I've had a hard time taking Bell seriously since. As for Vonnegut, he's entitled to his opinion, though he seems to be prejudiced against transvestite hermaphrodites for some reason. :p

    Here's a little column by National Book Award winner Lewis Thomas about punctuation generally. It has a good take on the semicolon. (Thomas wrote nonfiction, not fiction. But I think his open-minded view of punctuation fits any kind of writing. His first paragraph in this piece, by the way, is a virtuoso use of parentheses.)

    Notes on Punctuation.
     
  20. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    I don't have anything against semicolons and colons, and I use them in my writing, when there is a need. Their use needs to be correct. I gain my stance on the issue from the style guides I use ... mostly The Elements of Style and CMOS, both of which, as far as I know, do not advise against using them for any type of writing. I probably won't change my stance until there is a widely accepted style guide specifically stating one shouldn't use such punctuation marks in creative writing. If you know of one, let me know. I can say that most of the last twenty or so novels I've read have used at least one of the two punctuation marks, if not both (and the majority were published within the last two decades).

    And honestly, I don't believe your work will be tossed out because you have used them (as long as you have used them correctly). If the particular editor doesn't like them and wants you to change them ... well, that's your choice, isn't it? You don't have to use them, but if you want to, just make sure they are correct and needed.
     
  21. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I've come to the idea that, if some editors/publishers hate colons and semicolons...well, so be it. I'm right now trying to edit out semicolons, though some of my characters are pompous and overeducated and I think the semicolon reflects them well. I'm not saying using the semicolon is pompous, but it lends well to this type of character. A semicolon is easy to replace with a transitional conjunction or even just a period. So fine. Semicolons out. It's hard enough getting an editor to look at my work than ticking off those with an antisemicolon stance.

    The colon, not so much. I feel it's better to use a colon--yes, even in dialog--than go into linguistic gymnastics trying to avoid it. i.e. I'm finding it more cumbersome avoiding it than using it, as if this new "rule" or whatever you see it as is outdoing itself. And, yeah, I find you can use a colon in dialog that comes off as natural and realistic.

    And, honestly, I don't really see semicolons falling into underuse when a well-used Internet acronym is TL;DNR.
     
  22. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you for the link, maia. This particular bit seemed to express something I've been trying to put words to:
    "In such writings (i.e. scholarly) you're often stringing two thoughts together for a larger point...But in fiction, you want each sentence to stand on its own..."
    The thing is, in some genres of fiction, you actually do want the reader to take it slowly and consider more complex issues, and I'm not sure that reader illiteracy is a point you particularly need to worry about with literary writing.
    @ minstrel: loved your link, too. Thanks!
     
  23. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    That strikes me as an extraordinary observation. And, I'm being very charitable there.

    In fiction, you don't want to build a thought upon a thought to create a greater thought????

    It happens all the time. It happens all the time in the most rude/ juvenile efforts. In those efforts those thoughts are simply demarcated by full stops (periods).

    This seems to me the thinking behind that quotation: I don't like semi-colons. Umm, what rationale can I find for their exclusion from fiction? Ah, semi-colons are a felicitous means of creating a link of sorts between two ideas. So..yes, I've got it: in fiction you do not want to create links between ideas so semicolons are out.

    Oh my.
     
  24. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    That strikes me as an extraordinary observation. And, I'm being very charitable there.

    In fiction, you don't want to build a thought upon a thought to create a greater thought????

    It happens all the time. It happens all the time in the most rude/ juvenile efforts. In those efforts those thoughts are simply demarcated by full stops (periods).

    This seems to me the thinking behind that quotation: I don't like semi-colons. Umm, what rationale can I find for their exclusion from fiction? Ah, semi-colons are a felicitous means of creating a link of sorts between two ideas. So..yes, I've got it: in fiction you do not want to create links between ideas so semicolons are out.

    Oh my.
     
  25. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Keep your hair on, Art. I was saying that the sentence I quoted was true only for some types of fiction. But in any case, paragraphs can be made up of linked ideas, containing individual sentences with ideas that follow on from each other without having them overpacked or glued together like a train using punctuation. Of course they can be. IMO it's actually good practice to try and write flowing sentences that don't contain semicolons, colons, OR em dashes. I find I end up expressing myself more clearly, and it's often less jolting for a reader as well.
     

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